Tamasha And The Celebration Of The Universal Story

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Tamasha And The Celebration Of The Universal Story

Illustration: Akshita Monga/Arré

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t is a truth universally acknowledged that there is no such thing as an original story, just the same one told differently. Boy meets girl. They fall in love. Circumstances force them to be apart. But love triumphs in the end. It is the story literature has told us, it is what Bollywood has lived off, and it is definitely what Imtiaz Ali’s entire career has maintained.

We may accuse Ali of repetition but he did declare his intent quite openly. He has been weaving the idea of the universal nature of “The Story” into the core fabric of all his movies. Two years ago, he even made a movie that had The Storyteller at its heart. It’s us who took time to cotton on.

“Kahaani kahaani hai. Aur wohi kahaani har jagah chalti hai” (A story’s a story, and the same story is told everywhere), says the Storyteller (Piyush Mishra) to young Ved, Tamasha’s protagonist, assuring him that his is no different.

The idea of being “meta” isn’t widely used in Bollywood, despite the fact that the few films that have done so – Andaz Apna Apna, Main Hoon Na, Om Shanti Om – have been very successful in one way or another. While these films relied on meta-humour, Tamasha’s core narrative is meta. This is why the film’s opening sequence is an homage to the idea of The Story, with the Storyteller serving as Imtiaz Ali’s voice, telling us to understand why he tells us the same story in every film.

The Storyteller asks young Ved whether he’s comfortable, and begins. We hear, in Sukhwinder’s voice, the eternal and universal nature of The Story – how it’s been told since time immemorial, how it’s been passed down for generations, how it’s embedded in every love story, how no one knows where it starts and where it ends. The song weaves together stories of star-crossed lovers from across the world and ancient epics as if they are interchangeable, impressing upon us the commonality in fictional narrative across cultures and, therefore, that the personal is universal and the universal is personal.

But what could’ve been a clichéd rehash of his previous films, however, became something special and unique precisely because in Tamasha, Ali chose to acknowledge this formula in the film itself.

It wouldn’t have mattered if Ved hadn’t learned this as a child. The Story would’ve embedded itself into his life anyway and, because of its never-ending nature, he would never have been able to see where it was going and what came next for him. Ali wrote Ved and his story like he wrote virtually all his male protagonists – repressed, lonely, misunderstood, and full of angst. Tara plays the same role as all other women in Ali’s films; that of a saviour.

But what could’ve been a clichéd rehash of his previous films, however, became something special and unique precisely because in Tamasha, Ali chose to acknowledge this formula in the film itself. Ved’s story was tied to The Story from the very beginning, making everything that happened to him seem predestined rather than formulaic.

Throughout the story, there is never any doubt in our minds that Ved and Tara’s love will triumph, simply because we know that it always does. And yet, we want to see how Ved actually makes this happen, because he’s the one who needs to figure out how his story, which in this case is The Story, ends.

Unlike with Ali’s other films, there are no external factors whatsoever standing between Ved and Tara. The conflict that has generally been presented as external in The Story becomes an internal one in Tamasha. Ved seems mediocre, but Tara is the only person who sees him as special. In order for love to triumph, Ved needs to actualise his inner self and simply let himself be as special as Tara believes him to be.

tamasha

Unlike with Ali’s other films, there are no external factors whatsoever standing between Ved and Tara.
Image Credit: Nadiadwala Grandson Entertainment

That Ved’s dilemma is rooted in the reality of millions of Indians really resonates, and what’s personal for him becomes the universal, just how his story is The Story and vice versa. When Ved has no one to turn to for answers, he goes to the Storyteller to ask what happens next. The Storyteller, despite being delirious and senile, gives Ved the answer he needs: that he holds all the answers within himself

Ved’s eureka moment is, in a way, symbolic of a storyteller’s or artist’s journey. Ved learns that instead of being someone that he isn’t just to have the approval of the world, he needs to be himself and approval of the world will follow – a universal truth, but perhaps even more relevant for filmmakers such as Imtiaz Ali.

Just like how we never know where The Story goes and how it ends, it’s hard to say what Ali’s future as a storyteller holds. A few years from now, Ali’s illustrious career may have faded away, and his legacy of being a quirky, new-age filmmaker may have eroded, but, he will have done his job as an artist. Tamasha, will stand an ode to the universality of the story, and one day, when he looks back at his work, and sees inauthentic Jab Harry Met Sejals that have dotted his career, he can say to himself, “At least, there’s Tamasha.”

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