Taish on ZEE5, by Bejoy Nambiar: An exquisitely crafted collision of existential gangster drama and soapy family saga

Posted on January 31, 2021

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taish

The director regains the silken form that’s been eluding him since ‘Shaitan’, and I think it’s because the trashy, telenovela-style material is just right.

Spoilers ahead…

The very first shot of Taish announces that we are watching un film de Bejoy Nambiar. The camera glides from the tail lights of a parked car, glides past the body, peeks into the front-side window and takes a few seconds to gaze at Pali (Harshvardhan Rane), the man in the driver’s seat. He is upset, weeping, and we’ll soon discover why. He composes himself, gets out, walks past a security guard and shoots the man down. I won’t say any more, except to note that it’s a single-take shot that stops when Pali points his gun at someone and the camera comes around and stares down into the barrel. There are times this kind of an aesthetic choice can come across as showing off. Here, it doesn’t. From the time Pali gets out of the car to the time he has to make a decision about pulling the trigger, we are with Pali just like the camera is with Pali. Even if you can’t explain it, you feel the correctness of this shot: in the right hands, form is function, style is substance.

Very few filmmakers give us such sensual, almost tactile pleasure while watching their work. Even when Bejoy goes wrong (a lot of his earlier film, Solo, did not work for me), there’s always something interesting — but here, he regains the silken form that’s been eluding him since Shaitan, and I think it’s because the trashy, telenovela-style material is just right. Like The Godfather showed us, the trashiest (in the un-“literary” sense) of material is sometimes the most suited for a director to impose a strong signature on. “Mere andar ka dard ekdum nasoor ho gaya hai,” a character says. In a more “naturalistic” film, we’d expect this character’s arc to bring us to this moment and make us feel this anguish, but here, the neon-red light that falls on him does the job. And beautifully. The man practically looks like a raw wound.

Much later, a woman lets go of her lover. He’s been kneeling in front of her, his head on her lap. She had her arm around him. Now, he’s gone, and her arm is still in that position, around the space he occupied just seconds earlier. It’s as though she’s frozen, and he’s had to make the decision for the both of them. This is the heightened mode that Taish works in. You might call it… “visual masala“. In our typical masala cinema, the words are heightened. Here, it’s the music-video imagery. The drama achieved through an ornate, wall-mounted mirror when a killing is attempted made me gasp. (Bejoy’s mentor would be so proud.) It’s a wordless sequence — it doesn’t need words because the visuals are doing all the talking. 

For a while, the London-based story plays out in two shades: light and dark. The parts written around Pali have a heavy shadow over them. These portions involve two sisters (Sanjeeda Sheikh, Saloni Batra), a dramatic dose of star-crossed love, a gangster (Abhimanyu Singh) Pali feels sibling-like affection towards but also resents at some level, and an assortment of thugs. On the sunlit side, we have Rohan (Jim Sarbh), who’s in an “it’s complicated” relationship with Aarfa (Kriti Kharbanda). He seems to want her at his brother’s wedding, but she senses that this is not a whole-hearted invitation. This half of the narrative — which feels like a Zoya Akhtar movie — is populated by Rohan’s brothers and his best friend Sunny (Pulkit Samrat, superb as a stylised, New Age masala-movie hero, who wants revenge). Inevitably, light collides with dark, and the consequences are horrifying. 

Taish works because the lines work: they are mostly minimalistic, and balance out the maximalism of the style. The actors work. The characters work. (When Rohan embraces his father, the man’s evident discomfort is a snapshot of their whole relationship up to that point.) The writing works. Taish is the rare revenge-themed melodrama where every woman leaves a mark, even if they are not active contributors in the events. But most of all, the staging works. When a character is held at gunpoint, he is in a pose that suggests buggering — and this is an echo of something from his past. When Sunny approaches a fuzzy photograph at a prayer meet, we think we know who the dead person is, but it turns out to be someone else. Again, not a word is uttered. In lesser hands, you wouldn’t have taken a moment of all this seriously — especially Pali as the world’s most soulful thug. (He’s an Imtiaz Ali hero born on the wrong side of the tracks.) But Bejoy makes you buy in. He elevates what could have been a guilty-pleasure pop song to deeply felt opera.

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