Tamasha (“Spectacle“) doesn’t give as much as it asks of its audience in return. Writer-director Imtiaz Ali asks the audience to buy into his characters’ romantic struggles without giving enough reasons why we should care.
The romance is founded on a questionable gimmick: two strangers meet while vacationing in Corsica, and they vow to spend a week together pretending to be people they are not. They take on identities from old films, with the man (Ranbir Kapoor) posing as Don, and the woman (Deepika Padukone) assuming the moniker Mona Darling.
Their courtship hinges on the two of them not knowing a thing about one another, which means that the audience doesn’t know anything about them either. All we know about Don is that he liked stories as a kid and presently — the Corsica sequence is a flashback — performs as a tin man in a stage play. We know nothing about Mona.
The false identity gimmick makes it hard to care about these mysterious characters as they cavort about France. Ali trots out his signature trope — the spontaneous parade — in the song “Matargashti,” an event that is supposed to be charming but comes off as forced and unrealistic.
Several years after their French dalliance, Mona and Don meet again in Delhi, revealing to each other their true names: Tara and Ved. However, Ved is a boring, goateed tech guy — nothing like the ebullient Don. Tara tries a relationship with Ved, but finds that she longs for the side of him that she met in Corsica.
Despite the tagline on the movie poster — “Why always the same story?” — Tamasha is a too familiar tale of a bubbly woman teaching a bland guy how to live. As per the template, Tara has no identity of her own apart from her role in Ved’s personal growth.
Tara also has a buttoned-up corporate job, but how does she feel about it? Why aren’t scenes of her at work shot with the same grey tone that colors scenes of Ved at work, as though he’s walking under a cloud even indoors? What does she want from life, other than to be with Ved? Padukone does her best within her characters’ limitations, as does Kapoor.
As a lead character, Ved is a disappointment. He blames his mundane existence on his father, who pushed him into engineering. When Tara points out that there’s more to Ved than his job, he lashes out at her, as though angered at her nerve for suggesting that he is the source of his own unhappiness.
A lot of people hate their jobs, but it doesn’t make them dull automatons in their off hours. There’s a reason why plenty of authors are former lawyers who wrote their debut novels in spare hours over the weekend. If you have a story to tell, you find a way to tell it. Ved chose to be a dull jerk, and it’s unpleasant to watch him punish Tara for his own choices.
There’s a trivial-sounding question that actually gets at the heart of why Ved fails as a lead character: why is he in Corsica? Are we supposed to believe that an over-scheduled working stiff like Ved planned a solo vacation in an exotic resort spot like an island off the coast of France? Since everything we know about Ved points to the answer “no,” then what is he doing there? I’m curious as to whether Imtiaz Ali knows.