Last week I watched Tamasha with a friend. He, of course, hated it. I concede it’s a difficult film to like. However, I found it difficult to write it off. Yes, the film has its flaws. Even if one finds the execution sloppy, the underlying idea is something that is worth reflecting on.

The movie essentially revolves around Ranbir’s character, Ved, who has a penchant for and is fascinated by narratives as a child. But as he grows up he realises that his father does not approve of his choices and that he wants Ved to make safer choices and lead a more regimented life. Ved gives in: he follows the beaten path. He takes up engineering and a corporate job subsequently, abandoning his cherished dream of telling tales. He conscientiously and painfully suppresses his inner desires, and carves out a new persona that helps him live the life that people around him expect him to.

But then walks in Deepika’s character Tara in his life. In a far away land Tara gets to see that facet of Ved’s that he had hid from the world. Tara falls in love with this Ved. This Ved is fun. This Ved lives life with a gay abandon. This Ved laughs. Heartily so. They make a pact to never reveal their real identities to one and other. They go their own ways.

Few years later, they meet again. Tara meets a new Ved this time. The Ved that was known to the rest of the world. She is taken by surprise. They are still fond of each other. Ved proposes to Tara. But Tara refuses the proposal. She tells Ved that she wants the Ved she had met before. This Ved smiles; he doesn’t laugh. This Ved wants to please everyone, including his obnoxious boss. This Ved gets up at the same time every day and strictly follows the same routine through the day, every day. Tara doesn’t fancy this Ved. She asks him to get back to being his old self.

Ved is hurt. He tries to convince Tara that the Ved she is seeing is the real Ved, and that the Ved she had seen before was a just an illusion. Tara doesn’t buy his claims.

This is a crucial juncture in the story. Something in Ved changes from here on. It’s not the regular low phase that a guy goes through after being dumped by a girl. This is much deeper and more frightening. Ved has not only lost a girlfriend, but also his own self. Tara scratches that surface of Ved’s psyche underneath which Ved had buried his real self. The self that Ved had to muzzle and batter to please the people around him, gets resurrected at Tara’s provocation. And the demons of his old self come back to posses and overpower the new and tame Ved. Ved loses the sense of equilibrium and ends up losing his job and his sense of self-worth, consequently. What happens after this I leave for you to find out for yourself.

What struck a chord with me was the brilliant portrayal of a conflicted self by Ranbir. I could see vague parallels between Ved and my life.

Imagine a little gay boy with a conspicuous feminine disposition, who, as he grows up, realises that his effeminacy is cause of embarrassment to his folks and that to please them and people around him, he will have to cast it off. Despite his best efforts he realises that his effeminacy is not something that he can cast off, and that, at best, he can mask it. He forges a new self, one which is socially more acceptable, one which is his bulwark against the bullies at school. The efforts pay off. Everyone is pleased. No more embarrassing moments for the family. The price to be paid, however, is that the child’s sense of self is now destabilised forever. The act of donning that mask day in and day out, leaves scars on the self. The new persona gets cemented so strongly on the real self that after a point the demarcation starts to grow hazy. Later the boy grows up and comes out as a gay man.

He is now introduced to the queer culture (legitimately called so). He walks the Pride parade now, because that’s what people of his tribe are doing; he too wants to belong. But he is still not fully comfortable with the new ethos that he is to don now. He is not sure if he fully agrees with everything that’s going on in the parade, or everything it has come to stand for. He feels conflicted. He is struggling to locate his self. Should he dig up his old self that he had so assiduously buried in the more obscure recesses of his mind? Should he do away with this new persona that he has so fastidiously wrought and that has helped him earn him the dignity that every person should be entitled to? In his new persona he gains the objectivity which enables him to study his other self from a distance. Was that self real in the first place or just a bunch of caprices that he had taken too seriously? And yet he realises that the caprices still breathe within him; they can’t be wished away. He still longs to indulge them. He still bemoans the fact that he can’t exercise them as and when he wants to.

I have struggled with many of these dilemmas at various points in my life. And when I saw them being played out on screen in Ved’s life, albeit in a different context, I was overcome with empathy.

Yash Raj Goswami
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