Towards the end of Dekh Tamasha Dekh, we see the police chief (Vinay Jain) of a seaside village on the phone, talking to his young son. (It’s a land line. There are no cell phones around.) He paints a beautiful picture of the place. There’s the sea, of course, and there are mermaids, and nearby, there’s a mela. These fictions are clearly for the boy, but you wonder if they are for him as well, to keep him sane, if only for the duration of a telephone call. Due to the demise of a local, a Hindu named Kishan who took to living as a Muslim named Hamid, the village is at war. The Hindus claim the corpse as theirs, as do the Muslims. The only one who seems composed – sane – is Hamid’s wife (Tanvi Azmi). She lost her first husband to police fire during an earlier riot. Now, her son Anwar has run away and become a miscreant. And Hamid is gone too. She says she has no more men to give away. Unlike the cop, she’s at peace.
Dekh Tamasha Dekh is, in essence, a compilation of plot points that aren’t really new. We’ve seen, on screen, how sensationalistic the media can be, how opportunistic politicians can be, how powerless honest policemen and moderates can be. We’ve seen fundamentalists from both religions preach intolerance and ignite passions. We’ve seen Hindu-Muslim love. We’ve seen Hindu-Muslim hate. And we’ve seen, in Zakhm, the Muslim “wife” of a dead man (who was Hindu) being labelled a whore because they didn’t seal the deal in the eyes of society. (Like the boy in Zakhm, Anwar seethes at this injustice.) But the director, Feroz Abbas Khan, positions the film at the border of surrealism and absurdity – and this tone, gently satiric, makes all the difference. At any given moment, things are funny and wistful and sad and touching, a mix of moods that’s at once more ambitious and less difficult to take than simple-minded polemics about all these “issues.”
In this week that has seen the passing of Gabriel García Márquez, it’s a welcome surprise to see a hawaldar possessed by the ghost of Hamid, stripping his clothes off in a hospital as a nurse calls for help. Elsewhere, a big shot played by Satish Kaushik – who’s terrific as always, and who, after Lakshmi, seems to be on a mission to air out his hefty torso on screen every opportunity he gets – rouses the rabble by pointing out that Hamid died by electrocution, and so his son must be given a job in… the Electricity Board. Meanwhile Hamid’s daughter Shabbo gives her boyfriend Prashant a “magic ring,” one that will see him through difficulties. And a Doniger-like history professor, whose controversial book is being burned, takes off his hearing aid whenever he wants to shut out the noise and retreat into a world of silence.
At one level, we may wonder about these movies, which, due to their lofty aims and lack of stars, play only in niche multiplexes, attracting niche audiences who already subscribe to everything that’s being said. These films are the cinematic equivalents of op-ed columns and panel discussions, and we may wonder if these messages, these cries from the heart, are going to get through to the people who really need to listen. Otherwise, isn’t it just a bunch of liberals sitting around and chatting? But that is a question of how films like Dekh Tamasha Dekh need to be marketed. As to the question of how it’s been made, there aren’t many complaints. A few “pointed” shots apart – a Muslim kid being taught to wield a gun; an “ironic” cut from a crime scene to a stage where Ae mere watan ke logon is being performed – the film flows beautifully, alternating long unbroken takes (especially in the scenes between Shabbo and Prashant) with scenes that are more traditionally cut. The hysteria is kept to a minimum. When a character is shot dead by the seaside, we hear not screams but the lapping of waves – the sky darkens, the frame fades out. It isn’t an invitation to weep. It’s an indication that the time for weeping is long gone and there may be no tears left.
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