The Ordinariness of Genius: Through the characters of Imtiaz Ali’s ‘Tamasha’

In 'Tamasha', Ved is supposed to be finally living his creative vision. And yet no one takes a moment to acknowledge the fact that his quest of rediscovery has no basis

Written by Swati Saxena | Published: December 24, 2015 9:48 am
tamasha, imtiaz ali, ranbir kapoor, deepika padukone, tamasha review In Imtiaz Ali’s ‘Tamasha’, Ved and Tara come from money, (as evidences by their mansions in Kolkata and Simla) like most Ali’s characters, allowing them to live in chic central Delhi apartments and vacation in South of France

Sometime after the intermission Ved wistfully wonders to his audience of autorickshaw drivers how things would have been had there been no money in the world. It is meant to touch upon the audience’s higher consciousness, to imagine a world beyond the materialism which the protagonist finds himself trapped in. Yet it rings false. This is classic Imtiaz Ali, where his characters pine for a world beyond the trappings of materialism and rat race of jobs and money, yet being blissfully supported by the same capitalist infrastructure that gives them time and the indulgence to muse such.

Ved and Tara come from money, (as evidences by their mansions in Kolkata and Simla) like most Ali’s characters, allowing them to live in chic central Delhi apartments and vacation in South of France while working in mid-level managerial jobs in cubicles. It also allows them to reflect. A lot. In fact the idea of being caught in the mediocrity and ordinariness of life is recounted by various characters at different times in the movie to the point it gets tedious. There are over explanations. It is even literalised in a theatrical sequence where Ved dressed as a robot walks on the treadmill, of life presumably. The final straw is when Ved narrates his life story to his father alternating it with semi-robotic voice. The conceit here is that Ved is supposed to be a natural story teller, yet his monologue is so boring that it found the audience squirming in their seats.

Watch interview with Imtiaz Ali

In long stretches Ali shows us Ved’s monotony in life. There are repeated stretches of him getting up, brushing his teeth, wearing his tie, and eating cereal. I was reminded of Saif’s character in Love Aaj Kal post interval, where he similarly took tram, walked up the stairs, ate his sandwich and played video games at night. However while Saif’s character progressively rebelled against the repetition of life and was motivated by soul crushing heart break, Ranbir’s character seems to have surrendered to this repetition. It is meant to show the person that he has become, an “average, normal” Joe as he calls himself.

According to Ali and his characters, this ordinariness of life is the greatest tragedy that can be, and yet he remains oblivious to the fact that the mere realisation of this ordinariness by the characters makes them anything but that. It is their material privilege to some extent that allows them the luxury to reflect so, in the rustic chic cafes and lanes of Hauz Khas. In the mere acknowledgement of the existential question they have actually transcended themselves from the soul destroying ordinariness of life.

We are meant to believe that Ved and Tara have rich inner lives, especially Ved. We are given a long introduction to childhood immersed in oral and visual storytelling traditions. We are supposed to acknowledge his active imagination. However, Ved as a child and especially as an adult seems to display no extraordinary brilliance. Eccentricity is tolerable if backed by genius, otherwise it’s a farce. The idea life imitating art is never built upon. Apart from references to mythological folklore in the beginning, the only two other references to literature are Asterix in Corsica and Catch 22 which mainly serves as a plot device and not a point of reflection.

At the end of the movie Ved quits his job and starts/joins a theatre. He is supposed to be finally living his creative vision. And yet no one takes a moment to acknowledge the fact that his quest of rediscovery has no basis. There is no soul crushing reflexivity that permeates it, there is no pain or longing or desire, there is not even realisation of the fact that it is in very bourgeois ordinariness of life that seeds of genius have bloomed.

Some of the best works of literature have come from writers with standard day jobs. Harper Lee wrote ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ while working as an airline reservation agent. Rowling developed her earlier novels while working as a researcher at Amnesty International and later at the Manchester Chamber of Commerce. TS Eliot wrote in a bank. Joseph Conrad produced his modernist masterpieces while working as a captain of the sea. Arthur Conan Doyle worked as a doctor. Charles Dickens’s realism and critique of the industrial revolution is based on the many years he spent working in a blacking factory sticking labels on pots of shoe polish. And Herman Melville’s Moby Dick didn’t bring him fame or fortune till after his death, compelling him to work as deputy inspector of customs at the Port of New York for 29 years.

Closer home, Premchand spent most of his life in poverty, working as a school teacher to support himself while writing. The truth is, binary between having a boring day job and discovering one’s creative calling simply doesn’t exist in black and white. One doesn’t necessarily oppose the other. Some of the best works in literature (also music and art) have come from people who continued to live rather mundane lives while producing masterpieces. Unfortunate material circumstances or late recognition of their genius necessitated that they make their living elsewhere. Their genius stemmed from the recesses of their minds fuelled by keen observation of society. Ali’s characters seldom look within or about. The question of money, its source as well as its lack, which has led to brilliant critiques in literature and art, never enters their consciousness, never disturbs their quest. And that is the real tragedy of their lives.

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  1. C
    Chand
    Dec 24, 2015 at 7:39 am
    Tamasha had its good moments mainly due to the performances of lead actors and scenic locations but the story line was too vague to fully engage the audience. It looked the movie was made in a hurry as Imtiaz, Ranbir and Deepika were keen to work together in the same movie . Anyway, Imtiaz Ali needs praise for attempting to tell an unusual story than follow in the conventional entertainment route.
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      Amol
      Dec 24, 2015 at 4:54 am
      # TAMASHA #Best of the year !! You need to be mature enough to understand the character n story line.But sadly its beyond your imagination. My dear Author you can continue to watch Shaandar, PRDP and Dilwale type of movies.
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      1. Ashutosh Shrivastava
        Dec 25, 2015 at 4:57 am
        The critique is too good. Even though I loved the movie, I found this to be true at a certain level, if not every. My point is 'the audience is used to the character being crushed and then look for a meaning' (much like Jai in Love AajKal) but Ved's surrender in the movie was a real one, we are all like that. Totally agree to all the examples of the genius you mentioned but not everyone is bound to fall in same bucket and in the same way. As for Ved, we never know for real, exactly how successful he turned out to be so the point still remains is that he went ahead with what he thought was good for him. I empathize Ved and his mediocrity. Your article was a must read for every 'Tamasha' lover
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          Disha
          Dec 24, 2015 at 5:40 am
          Very True...movie wasnt that real.and one cant even criticize material world so blatantly..life not so white n black!!!
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          1. M
            maz
            Dec 24, 2015 at 5:10 am
            Excellent. You got it spot on. The film was plainly boring. While pretending to be deep- and you have unmasked the shallowness at its centre.
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