Dekh Tamasha Dekh is a satire of modern India, but its relevance is universal. Director Feroz Abbas Khan and writer Shafaat Khan present an insightful, funny story about the dangers of sectarianism and intellectual laziness.
The town of Canda functions under an uneasy balance between the local Hindu and Muslim communities. The town’s most prominent politician, Mutha Seth (Satish Kaushik), also owns the local newspaper, and he bemoans the declining readership. The marketing guru he brings in pushes local gossip: “What people wish to read is more important.”
Mutha Seth gets his wish when a billboard depicting his likeness falls over, killing Hamid (Satish Tare), the local horse cart driver. Hamid’s body is already in the grave when members of the Hindu community demand that the Muslims turn the body over to them. Hamid was born as a Hindu named Kishen, although he converted to Islam more than twenty years earlier.
This sparks a protracted legal battle over the dead man’s body, and both sides become increasingly militant. The new chief of police, Sawant (Ganesh Yadav), struggles to quell a feud he doesn’t really understand, as he’s reminded by the local historian, Professor Shastri (Satish Alekar).
Though the ideas of corrupt politics and violent religious tension are large in scale, they are exacerbated by small acts. For example: Kulkarni (Dhiresh Joshi), the editor of the local paper, feels his career threatened by the new marketing guy, so he publishes an inflammatory story that sparks a riot. When the paper’s lone reporter, Rafiq (Angad Mhaskar), asks a visiting imam to promote peace instead of war, Rafiq is forced to flee for his life as the city burns.
Khan constantly reminds the audience that fights driven by fanaticism have dire consequences for people who want no part in them, especially the poor. Cinematographer Hemant Chaturvedi’s shots capture characters framed in doorways or windows. We are invited into their homes to see their suffering.
The people who suffer the most in the fight for Hamid/Kishen’s body are his own family. His widow, Fatima (Tanvi Azmi), doesn’t care what happens to the body. He’s dead, and she and her children are still poor. She tolerates the mournful wailing of the women who’ve taken over her house, vowing to pray continuously for Hamid’s soul until he’s buried. Then the water turns back on for the day, and they abandon their prayers to fill up their buckets.
Even worse off is Hamid’s daughter, Shabbo (Apoorva Arora), who’s in love with a Hindu man named Prashant (Alok Rajwade). Shabbo’s pragmatism and worries are mitigated by Prashant’s relentless optimism. He stares at her as though she’s the only thing that exists in the world. In another place, their future happiness would be a given, but not in Canda, where their very relationship is tantamount to treason.
Grounding the story so firmly in one town highlights the way such problems could manifest in any town in any country. Substitute two other religions — or races or political parties — and the mania that overtakes Canda could happen anywhere. It’s a chilling lesson told in an amusing, moving way. Dekh Tamasha Dekh is terrific.