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by Jay Seaver

"As usual with Bolllywood, a bit more than a romantic comedy."
4 stars

It had been a while since I last saw a big Bollywood romantic comedy with singing, dancing, and a little bit of everything, and after seeing "Tamasha"... Well, it's still been a while since I've seen that sort of movie. I'm not disappointed, because this one uses its post-intermission redirection to go somewhere interesting, and it banks a fair amount of delight before that.

The first place it goes, sort of, is Corsica, where a Hindu tourist (Deepika Padukone) has lost the bag with her wallet and passport and is having trouble finding anybody who speaks English, let alone Hindi, to help her out. Fortunately, there is another tourist nearby who can help, and just as they are are about to introduce themselves to each other, he (Ranbir Kapoor) stops, pointing out that if they do that, it will lead to the same boring conversations they could have back home, and introduces himself as Don, international outlaw. She likes this and calls herself Mona Darling, representative of the criminal kingpin he came to Corsica to meet. They spend a week role-playing and having adventures, until "Mona's" replacement passport arrives. They will, of course, meet again in Delhi, but will Tara Maheshwari feel the same way about Ved Sahni, product manager for a communications technology company?

Like many Indian movies, Tamasha splits fairly easily into two parts,and the first half in this case supplies the fuel for the second. It doesn't take place entirely in Corsica, but the time spent there is a sheer delight. Writer/director Imtiaz Ali recognizes that he's presenting the audience with a fairly kooky scenario, and has the good sense to squeeze every bit of fun from it that he can without pushing it to the point where the audience has any reason to get over practical questions. The beautiful scenery - where it only rains to refresh or give a couple a reason to huddle close under cover - combines with the film's most traditional musical number and even a bit of off-color humor to create an ideal and seductive fantasy world; that some pretty mild jokes are bleeped on the soundtrack or starred-out in the subtitles might even be deliberate rather than the work of a timid censor bureau, a chance for "Don" and "Mona" to act differently than they would at home without incurring any sort of penalty. It's very much the light romantic comedy one might expect, and carries that off very well.

That's not the entire first half, though - in fact, it's something like fifteen or twenty minutes before the main action in Corsica actually kicks off, as the film instead opens with a stage performance involving a clown and her robot friend with a big heart painted on his chest Tin Man-style, and then spends a fair amount of time in Shimla, Ved's childhood home, where he was enraptured by an old storyteller (Piyush Mishra), even if he didn't understand the old man's assertions that the various stories he mixed up were basically the same. It's a neat but perilous device; Ali is salting material away for the second half here without interrupting the film for a flashback, but establishing Ved's fondness for fantasy early does inform his making the odd choice of not pursuing Tara in a more tried-and-true fashion. It's narrative ambition that works.

By the tone the film has reached the midway point, Ved's and Tara's reunion has already reached the point where Corsica is something of a disconnected memory, and Ali has already stayed the ball rolling on other interesting things that will carry into the second half, eventually creating a nifty push-and-pull between how he feels that being this sort of office done is his real life while Tara thinks otherwise. There are some enjoyably barbed moments as the repetitive nature of Ved's life becomes clear and he starts to rebel by filling his work Pentagon's with ever more buzzword-filled gibberish. Bollywood movies often transform in their second half, and this one becomes a fairly even-handed look at the in internal and external pressies to do something respectable and secure versus risky and creative. It's a familiar sort of tale, but handled well in part because Ved is not necessarily a prodigy; we see him struggle at understanding the tools of narrative and metaphor, enough to make this not necessarily am obvious choice.

Pushing the story on that direction means that there is relatively little Deepika Padukone in the second half, which is unfortunate because every movie could use more of her - she is, as per usual, as charismatic and genuinely funny as she is beautiful, and able to present Tara's story as a complement to Ved's even halfway in the background. Ranbir Kapoor gets to carry a great deal of the film, and he's pretty good too - he's charged with palying Ved in a wider variety of times and situations, and while he sometimes goes a little broad, he's impressive at the uncomfortable moments when he's not sure where he's going to wind up next.

For a Bolllywood movie, this is positively spritely at two and a quarter hours, and Ali uses that time well - the film changes directions a few times and never seems to lose focus and doesn't bog down, even with relatively few characters in play. He experiments a little bit with visuals and editing, and one thing that's done surprisingly well is jumping forward in time; where a lot of movies would do a quick cut, Tamasha jumps forward in increments, and it gives the film a little bit more scope.

So it's a little bit bigger than a romantic comedy, although still enough of one that the story of a guy finding what he wants to be doesn't overwhelm it. It's not a perfect film, but it's consistently a bit better than expected.

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originally posted: 12/09/15 14:37:16
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  27-Nov-2015 (PG)


Directed by
  Imtiaz Ali

Written by
  Imtiaz Ali

  Deepika Padukone
  Ranbir Kapoor
  Javed Sheikh
  Piyush Mishra

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