Thoughts on Tamasha – What Not to be in Life
A Guest Post by Suharsh Sinha
In Federico Fellini’s masterpiece, La Dolce Vita, the wistful faux intellectual, Mr. Steiner remarked – “I am too serious to be a dilettante, and too much of a dabbler to be a professional.” Lets call him and his ilk ‘serious dabblers’ for the sake of convenience. This sentiment echoes among many of the privileged class of my generation. A class which grew up witnessing economic liberalization, cultural glasnost, breaking of traditional mores of defining ambition, profession, gender and relationships – it was promised that sky was the limit, at least till you ‘grow up’.
And this is the sentiment which lies at the point of departure between the swathes of serious dabblers on one side and the career dilettantes and professionals on the other side. The protagonist of Tamasha is a true itinerant at heart. He is a wandering story teller fascinated by the tales of war and conquest, love and heart break, of epics and myths. But like Naseeruddin Shah in Monsoon Wedding, Boman Irani in Lakshya and Balraj Sahini in Waqt, our protagonist’s father is a child of India’s partition. Partition was a bitter tragedy which instilled a diehard spirit of self denial, hard work and zealous enterprise among those who started lives afresh. Such enterprise scoffed at wooly ideas of philosophical self discovery – an indulgence reserved only for the unambitious and unworthy. It is no accident that the high-achieving father in the movie is domineering and judgmental – an overpowering authority whose slightest disapproval is like a death knell to the son. In the face of such scathing scrutiny the son gives up.
With the automated monotony of what we call ‘growing up’, his creativity gets stifled and he finds himself in a corporate desk job. He makes soul crushing power point presentations using cliché after cliché to disinterested clients. His gift of inventive story telling falls flat in the face of regimented corporate speak with its punctilious rules of grammar, syntax and economy. His boss, once an entrepreneur, is now a happily risk averse corporate head who likes predictability and a market beating computed annual growth rate of profitability.
The protagonist has convinced himself that storytelling is an inferior calling. He is firmly ensconced in the corporate straitjacket and has throttled his original self. At a subliminal level he knows that the limited liability of the corporate form is causing him limitless pain but he has deliberately rendered even his gentle iconoclasm comatose. Till one fine day an old flame who had once witnessed the free spiritedness of his rolling stone days jolts him out of his hypnotic trance. So a ‘dilettante’ turned ‘professional’ was confronted with the fact that he has become a turncoat. This desperate awakening triggers a disturbing bipolarity in him. He is not sure where he belongs. He is too scared to pursue his passion and yet too revolted to turn up at the gut wrenching guillotine of creativity at work. How he reverts to pursuing his childhood passion is a delightful process of self realisation and I strongly urge you to watch the movie.
But coming back to the scourge of the serious dabbler. Blessed are those who have a passion, are convinced that they are good at it and have the luxury to pursue it – like our protagonist. Or those who love the stability of a corporate life – the smooth income stream, promotions and bonuses and the appearance of success by association with the entity they work for- like the boss of the protagonist. The ‘serious dabblers’ are ailing. They dislike the ritual of turning up at work. They have read enough facebook posts and buzzfeed articles to know they are not alone in this state of disquiet. This brews a growing discontent and false sense of entitlement that they are cut out for something else – something more meaningful and rewarding which they will stumble across one fine day. But either they lack a passion or the conviction to pursue their passion thereby getting drawn into a vicious cycle of longing and self pity. More often than not, the happy resolution for them is the realisation that they have missed the ‘follow your passion bus’ and are making decent money in any case. So they follow the words of Ramadhir Singh, the pragmatic ganglord in Gangs of Wasseypur – “apni bhavnaon ko dalon apni gand mein..’ (i.e. stuff your feelings up your ass, and just get on with it). But for those who are unable to reach this convenient compromise, life can be like that of the forlorn Mr. Steiner.
Ranbir Kapoor has become the quintessential vagabond – the ‘khanabadosh’ of our times. However unlike his grandfather Raj Kapoor, the original wandering tramp of Bollywood, Ranbir Kapoor’s characters do not come from rural poverty or urban squalor. They grow up in Golf Links or Pali Hill, have rich parents and privileged childhoods. Therefore the personal conflicts that they face can seem elitist compared to those faced by millions in the country who struggle to live a life of basic human dignity. It reminds me of the poignant scene in Richard Linklater’s masterful ‘Boyhood’ where the rich white kids of a well off family are struggling to ‘find themselves’ whereas the poor immigrant Mexican kid who did odd jobs to pay for night school finally bags a white collar job and is thrilled to bits. You could either take the father’s side on this one and command the vagrant son to dutifully climb the corporate ladder, or choose to be sensitive and respect the subjective relativity of each ones’ personal demons – the call is yours.
But in this trichotomy of being a dilettante, a professional or a serious dabbler, please avoid being the third. Because it didn’t end too well for Mr. Steiner.