Everyone has been waiting with perverse anticipation for this Deepika Padukone-Ranbir Kapoor pairing *are they over their tattooed fiasco yet*, almost to a point that no one noticed Imtiaz Ali has come out with another didactic movie about freeing the inner child within you. The path is also rather clear -- while the more Zoya Akhtar’s characters travel, the more similar (read petty) they remain, travel has always been associated with freeing the mind for Ali. Ali brings back all his go-to solutions for the troubled, confused minds of the Indian millenials from his previous movies as teachers for his central character Ved aka Don (played by Ranbir Kapoor).While Rockstar had Kapoor plonking himself at Nizamuddin Dargah for inner peace, Piyush Mishra has been earmarked as the mad storyteller (casting on point) who provides guidance to Kapoor this time on. Ali has always waxed on and off about this elusive, abstract idea of freedom, especially in sticky areas such as relationships. Love Aaj Kal began with a break-up party where the couple broke off to discover themselves. Rockstar had Ranbir Kapoor and Nargis Fakhri trying to figure out college love (always a bad idea) in the midst of distance and social obligations. Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani had Deepika Padukone as nerdy girl trying to pin down air headed Ranbir Kapoor as he flit between countries trying to discover himself. We have a fourth version of the same mishmash in Tamashaa, with his hero again out there to discover himself (in a profession preferably that fulfils his misunderstood artistic bent) while his heroine waits till he figures out what he wants to do in life. Sadly, more often than we would have liked, this heroine has been Padukone.
By now, Ali has covered most artistic professions that provided a thin veil to this autobiographical whining, almost as bad as Adele’s heartbreak franchise: we have seen Kapoor as a musician, a photographer and a TV show anchor; it almost seems as though he were ticking off items off a listicle about “10 careers that help you discover yourself” on his Facebook feed. This time on, Ali as the narrator bares his heart -- it is the storyteller, the proverbial Shakespearan fool, played by Piyush Mishra who acts as a mentor to the hero of this story; someone who has the right to observe the rat race of humans doing what have been explicitly called robotic jobs changing who you are into a factory made mediocre “aam aadmi”.
This aam aadmi has been numbed and forced into studying engineering against his will, and then fit into a job from which he draws his identity from; he might be ordinary at his job, but that is only because of circumstances where he wasn’t allowed to pursue his dream. This is the central conflict of Ali’s film, like it is of his others, and the possible fallouts of his liberal heroes’ politics on his relationships make for plot material for his various films.
So complete in hubris is this assumption on the narrator’s part, that the film has utilized several narrative techniques to bring forth how sincerely the protagonist (Kapoor) feels about his inner journey. There are flashbacks to his childhood, slow-mo reproductions of legends and stories that he has internalised as he grew up -- a philosophical reiteration of how basically there is only one story of love and loss in the world -- an existential dilemma on the narrator’s path. These tools however end up confusing the audience in the beginning, and prove to be jarring to watch beyond a point -- though full marks to Ali for attempting different storytelling techniques. The camera work is beautiful as well as intuitive -- it helps truly pull the story forward and keep the audience engaged in the plot. Music has always been a strong point of Ali’s films, this time on, there are a couple of lilting tracks sung in Lucky Ali’s voice that are pleasant, however unnecessary.
Ultimately, while Ali’s storytelling has begun to seem repetitive as he matures (barring the brilliant Highway), it is safe to say that this one is better than Ali has received more clarity than his previously muddled Rockstar. Ultimately, what happens in Corsica, does not stay there at all.