When you are as devoted to the pursuit of old Hindi cinema as I am—and you assiduously discuss old cinema with other like-minded souls—you keep getting recommendations. Some recommendations I take with a certain amount of leeway automatically assigned, since I know that the recommender has his or her own biases that are likely to be reflected in the film in question. Others I tend to blindly follow, because over time, I’ve realized that these are people who pretty much share my own ideas of what comprises watchable cinema.
One of these is Anu, who blogs at Conversations over Chai. We have our differences (Raj Kapoor is one), but by and large, Anu and I tend to agree about cinema. So when Anu, chatting with me during my trip in August to meet her, recommended Tamasha, I immediately made a note of it. After all, Dev Anand, Meena Kumari, Ashok Kumar, Kishore Kumar—and a comedy? That certainly sounded like something I wanted to watch.
Tamasha begins with a tamasha, a farce. Rai Bahadur Sahib (Bipin Gupta) has had it up to here with his grandson Dilip (Dev Anand), who’s fallen into the clutches of a gold-digger dancer and aspiring film actress named Nayantara (Kaushalya). Rai Bahadur Sahib disapproves and has told Dilip to part ways with Nayantara, which Dilip has dutifully done, having assured his Dadaji that Nayantara is now out of his life and he has moved on to another girl, a ‘good’ girl.
Dadaji, however, suspects that this is all hogwash. He’s had enough of Dilip’s dilly-dallying, too, so he hatches a plan: with the connivance of his good friend, a doctor (Shivraj), Rai Bahadur Sahib is going to pretend to be on his deathbed, and will demand—as a dying wish—that Dilip bring his future bride to meet him. That will trap Dilip well and proper.
All goes as per plan. Dilip, caught offguard and distressed at Dadaji’s well-faked illness, begs for a couple of hours to go and fetch his lady love. This he is allowed, and he uses it to go rushing off to Nayantara’s, where Nayantara—still, obviously, the woman he loves—is busy practising her dance. In company with her are the members of her coterie: her mother, pretty much universally referred to as Mummy (Sunalini Devi); the wannabe director of the film Nayantara hopes to star in (Randhir) and others, including a music director.
Dilip tells all, and some deliberately hammy play-acting ensues, with Nayantara pretending to faint in her mother’s arms (because Dilip’s leaving her for another woman), while the director directs the action and the music director plays appropriately dramatic music on the piano. After a while, they get down to business. The solution, says the director, is to find another girl and present her to Rai Bahadur Sahib.
So he and Dilip go off, looking for respectable young women in the places they’re most likely to be found: a nurses’ hostel, a boarding and lodging space for women, a supplier of extras. Everywhere, they draw a blank. A frustrated Dilip, now that day has given way to night, decides the director’s idea isn’t a good one after all and dumps the man, going on by himself in his car. As he’s doing so, he hears a woman scream from a nearby house…
[At this point, all the versions of Tamasha I’ve been able to find on Youtube skip a scene—or several. Apparently, in the interim, Dilip meets a stranger named Kiran (Meena Kumari) who lives with her friend Malti. Dilip realizes that Kiran would be the perfect girl to take home to Dadaji and gives her some spiel, not mentioning the details of what he has in mind. Kiran is reluctant to go along, but Malti—probably in matchmaking mode, since that’s what she spends much of the film doing—persuades Kiran to go along].
Next we see, Dilip hurrying a still-reluctant and very puzzled Kiran upstairs to Rai Bahadur Sahib’s bedside.
Kiran’s sweetness, her wide-eyed innocence and general air of goodness charm Rai Bahadur Sahib immediately, and in the conversation that follows, it also emerges that Kiran is none other than the granddaughter of one of Rai Bahadur’s dearest friends. Now Dadaji is even more approving of Kiran. This is all so wonderful. He’s already feeling better.
On the way out, Dilip tries to pay a very flustered and angry Kiran, and has his money thrown in his face. She’s furious; how dare he pull such a cheap trick on his grandfather! She will not take money for the part she’s been forced to play in this fraud. And that said, Kiran goes off to her home.
Dilip is only briefly and mildly disconcerted; he goes off to phone Nayantara and to give her the good news: Dadaji is now well, all is well. What Dilip does not realize is that Dadaji, pottering about outside, has eavesdropped on this conversation. Barely is Kiran gone than Dadaji takes to his bed with a relapse, and Dilip is instructed to go and fetch ‘bahurani’ again.
Much to Dilip’s chagrin, Kiran refuses, pointblank, to co-operate. If Dilip has no sense of shame for the tricks he’s playing on Rai Bahadur Sahib, she does: she will not do something so low as to deceive her grandfather’s best friend. And, shooing Dilip out of her home, she tells him that she’s leaving town and going off to Poona, so he better not try coming back.
At his wits’ end, Dilip again goes off to Nayantara’s place to seek counsel. The director again offers a suggestion: tell Dadaji that Kiran has died of cholera. Of course, not just that, but with all the props: carrying an urn of ashes, looking ragged and half-dead himself, weeping, and with an anti-cholera vaccine from a doctor. With Kiran safely dead, Dilip cannot be held responsible for her any more.
While this plot is being hatched, a seething Kiran has changed her mind about going off to Poona. No, instead, she’s going to go and meet Rai Bahadur Sahib. The way Dilip is fooling his poor old grandpa, it’s despicable. As Kiran tells Malti, she won’t stand for her grandpa’s best friend being treated like this.
Just as Kiran arrives at Rai Bahadur Sahib’s mansion, who should arrive there too but Dilip’s cousin, Rajju (a very young and gangly Kishore Kumar). Rajju is met by the major domo, Mata Deen (SN Banerjee) who had, in the flurry of giving out that Rai Bahadur Sahib was on his deathbed, sent a message to Rajju too. Rajju is pleased to discover that this grandfather isn’t dead or dying, and is equally pleased to make the acquaintance of his bhabhi-to-be, as Rai Bahadur Sahib introduces a somewhat mortified Kiran.
In the midst of all of this, Dilip, rigged out in mourning gear and carrying an urn of ashes, arrives (fortunately for the scene, while Kiran is outside the room, along with Rajju) and says his piece, weeping crocodile tears over the death of his beloved Kiran. Who creeps up behind, and, along with Dadaji and Rajju, has a good laugh at Dilip’s expense.
The long and the short of it is that Dadaji, by now very fond of Kiran, decides that he wants her to stay on at his home. She tutors children; will she stay on at the mansion and take charge of two children who need attention? One is he, himself (Kiran giggles) and the other is—Dilip. Kiran is taken aback and reluctant, but because Rai Bahadur Sahib is so kind to her and she cannot bring herself to tell him what Dilip is up to, she gives in.
… which, naturally, ends up bringing her in closer contact with Dilip, leading to Kiran falling in love with him.
But Dilip is in love with Nayantara.
Who, unknown to him, is only in love with Dilip’s wealth and his position. Because the only man who’s really in Nayantara’s life is her equally cynical and materialistic lover, the film actor Ashok Kumar (Ashok Kumar). He calls her a zehreeli naagin—a venomous snake—and she returns the compliment. These two understand each other very well indeed: Nayantara promises Ashok that she will marry Dilip for his money and his family’s status, but she will continue to love Ashok because he understands her.
Of course you know things will turn out fine (this is not one of those wacky films that decide to turn the tables on an unsuspecting audience), but what will happen before that? How and when does Dilip realize Nayantara isn’t the darling he thinks she is? And that Kiran, really, is a darling?
What I liked about this film:
The entire package. Phani Majumdar directed Tamasha (which was co-produced by Ashok Kumar), and it’s a light, frothy film that manages to keep its head above the waters of melodrama all through. True, there are moments when it looks as if it’s slipping into gloom, but never for long. The acting is by and large passable; the songs (Khemchand Prakash and Manna Dey—Manna Dey was roped in to compose for Tamasha after Khemchand Prakash’s death) are good; and the comic tone is maintained pretty much through most of the film.
Among the highlights, though, are Meena Kumari—who shines with her prettiness and her acting; Dev Anand, who looks good even though his acting is a bit inept at places; Kishore Kumar, who’s a hoot even so early in his career; and Ashok Kumar, who though his role is a comparatively small one, does the suave, worldly-wise libertine very well.
What I didn’t like:
Not much, really, though there are a couple of minor plot holes that could have done with some filling up. My main grouse with Tamasha was that the Dilip-Kiran romance doesn’t develop convincingly enough. Their love is sweet, and the chemistry good, in a climactic conversation—but I’d loved to have seen more of that, in the course of its development.
Still, though: a delightful film, and one I would definitely recommend to anybody who likes comedies.