Because we recorded 76 using Andrew’s fancy-pants paid university Zoom account (shhh), we had a transcript of the conversation. It has taken me days – I really mean days – to correct the mistakes and make it readable. Providing transcripts is absolutely something podcasters ought to consider for accessibility, but it’s so labour-intensive and most of us are grossly under-resourced and under-funded, so please be kind when we can’t. These are here now anyway for anyone who can benefit from them. (And please do see the support page for ways to help that funding situation).
Paula Blair: Andrew, you have not been on the podcast for a wee while. Dare I ask: how are you?
Andrew Shail: I’m so angry at how little I’ve been involved in the podcast recently.
Paula Blair: Are you? Really?
Andrew Shail: You’ve been having such dalliances with so many other people.
Paula Blair: Oh
Andrew Shail: You’re so lucky you got me back. I’m fantastic Dr. Blair. How are you?
Paula Blair: I’m hanging in there thanks yeah. I’m really, really thrilled to be joined tonight by Arnojya Shree. Arnojya, would you like to say hi and tell us a wee bit about yourself?
arnojyashree: I’m Arnojya. My full name is Arnojya Shree. So in case anybody has problems pronouncing it you can just call me Arnie. I’m an international student here at Newcastle. Well, I used to be. I’ve just finished my Masters in film. And before film I’ve done a degree in literature, so my Bachelor’s is in literature and then I switched medias. Came here to do film because I was so fascinated with everything that I had seen ever since I was a child. And I think this is the opening line of my personal statement that I had sent to the college. It said that you are so fascinated by films that you actually become like the characters and the narrative, so you get so sucked into it. All my life people have made fun of this thing, but while I was contemplating what to do for my Master’s I realized if I am so into it then might as well do a bit of venturing into how things pan out and what actually goes behind the films and why is it that we find it so fascinating and ever since I’ve done the Masters I feel like that curiosity has only gone deeper instead of being satisfied so that’s that and I have done my dissertation… Actually my dissertation is inspired by the film that you’re talking about… we’re going to discuss. It was really interesting that everybody like ever since I knew about this episode, I was really moved by the fact that people see the film in the same light that I have. There is so much to unpack there and I think by now I’ve seen it like six, seven times. So if I really like films I watch it a lot. I think that’s the one thing about me that I love anything that has to do with arts. Be it music or film or even photography. I love the fact that cinema sort of brings everything together. I think that’s one of my passions in life to look at these various bits and find out how they work together.
Andrew Shail: Now just we need to point out here that Arnojya has submitted her dissertation for her Master’s degree about a week ago and so is now entirely free of being one of my students and can tell us what she really thought about a year of being a member of film nerd club. Which I’m sure is ‘I’m a richer person for it, Andrew.’ So we’re just gonna ask you a bunch of questions for the next hour.
arnojyashree: Yeah lovely!
Paula Blair: It’s so great to hear your energy, your enthusiasm for the subject still. I think a Masters is a really special thing. Of my degrees it’s my favorite one.
arnojyashree: Definitely, yeah.
Paula Blair: Now we don’t know the correct pronunciations so please correct us all the time. Tamasha, is that right or is it said a different way?
arnojyashree: It’s Tamasha. It’s very, very subtle.
Andrew Shail: You could just be shitting us up, of course.
Paula Blair: Arnojya, would you, for listeners, would you be happy to outline the film a little bit? I know it’s a really complex film but would you be able to try to sum it up a bit for us?
arnojyashree: So I’ve read a lot of reviews about it and I’ve written some as well. And the film is actually, it can be seen from so many perspectives and there isn’t like a definitive story going around, I think. So from all the times that I’ve seen the film. Sometimes I’ve seen it from the perspective of a storyteller telling the story of his life. Sometimes it’s a love story. Sometimes it’s just a narrative that the sometimes you feel like it’s the director. It’s his autobiography, in a way, that’s what I thought for a long time. But the story is essentially about this guy who was named Ved and Ved and Tara they accidentally meet in Corsica and they get into a few adventures, go back home and meet and somehow the energy that is between the dynamics has completely shifted. For Tara, she’s the same throughout. So she’s trying to understand what has changed in Ved and what has changed in their relationship
but he doesn’t seem to give any answers. So the film is really in a way about Ved and Tara discovering what Ved is all about. Because he’s the one who is the mystery here and I sometimes feel like they’re the same people, very, very similar nature but Tara is what Ved aspires to be: somebody who can claim all of their sides and every personality, every aspect, all the dark and the bright bits of your life. And Ved is somehow stuck in the labyrinth that is modern life and it’s one thing after the other. It’s a race. And people are putting so much energy and effort into something that they don’t even feel passionate about and it’s meaningless. But you have to do it because it’s your responsibility because that’s what we’ve been taught. It’s a lot about how Indian youth, people my age, go about in their lives. And I think I’m at the same turning point as well so it’s a really interesting film about how young people deal with career, relationships, themselves, what they want to do in life, their families.
Andrew Shail: It’s quite a star studded film, both in front of and behind the camera, isn’t it?
arnojyashree: Yeah it is.
Andrew Shail: Can you tell us about who was involved in making it?
arnojyashree: So, the director is Imtiaz Ali. He is one of the greatest contemporary directors in India right now. The music has been composed by A R Rahman, again one of the most respected names in Indian cinema when it comes to music. The film lead is Ranbir Kapoor who is considered one of the very versatile actors in Bollywood right now and Deepika Padukone is very a very successful actress. She’s done Hollywood films as well. It’s definitely a very star-studded cast. But I think what sets it apart from the commercial Bollywood films is the fact that it has substantiality in it like there’s quality. There’s content going on, which is sometimes missing from other films. Imtiaz Ali usually, the director, he usually has written the script as well. And he usually works with these kind of narratives with young people and all the kind of things that they face in life. It goes from very grotesque and abuse and trauma to love stories as well. It’s all sort of moving together.
Paula Blair: And so the term Tamasha, that’s to do with theatre isn’t it, that’s a type of theatre practice and there’s a huge amount of theatricality in the film. Could you tell us a little bit more about that?
arnojyashree: Tamasha is… in India we have a sort of theatrical play form; it’s usually played by young students in universities and schools. So they go out on the either performance stage or they go out and perform it in public. And it’s a very impromptu thing.
They would perform the same thing over and over again. So this is the thing that you would find in urban spaces. When you go to more rural areas, you’ll find things like Ramlila happening. And I’m I’ll tell you what it is so, do you remember in the beginning of the film,
you see all the plays happening and there are people dressed up in all sorts of costumes. That’s the actual Tamasha, that’s where the word comes from. So it’s just a play that goes on for pure entertainment. And it happens on festival and like occasions, whenever it is celebrated, a group of people that perform and it would include people from villages, you know, people who are neighbours. So everybody does it. It’s a thing to celebrate, they present the narrative which is related to the festivals and it’s just a way of appreciating the traditions in the mix and where our culture comes from.
Andrew Shail: Quite tellingly during that the opening sequence where we see young, of course, I’m calling him Ved. The young Ved as a boy watching these performances. It’s also intercut with him watching performances of Shakespeare plays as well. And when he first meets Tara, as an adult, the first thing he learns about her is that she’s come to Corsica because she likes ‘Asterix in Corsica’. so the film it kind of insists that the there’s this category of Tamasha that includes mythologies and storytelling traditions from well outside India as well.
Arnojya Shree: Definitely, yeah.
Andrew Shail: The fact that it opens on a play was truly baffling. Now you’ve mentioned when we were discussing Imtiaz Ali before that he basically counts as a postmodern director. Just for the benefit of people listening to and watching this who haven’t seen it, can you explain what the whole purpose of this play opening sequence is because it’s the play that we open on it isn’t a piece of traditional Tamasha, is it? It’s a much more commercial form of urban theatre that goes on in a very large auditorium that’s new and it’s very high. The lightings really amazing. And it’s huge. It’s what we call spectacular theatre. And it’s completely unexplained and who we later learn is the main male character we see him portrayed in the form of a robot walking on a treadmill, which is why I say it’s truly
baffling because that metaphor’s only explained after about an hour and a half?
arnojyashree: Yeah, towards the end of the film really.
Andrew Shail: Okay, so can you explain for our listeners and viewers what the whole point of that framing theatre performance is?
arnojyashree: When I first watched Tamasha, after two hours I was like, Okay, fine. This is a beautiful film, but I don’t understand anything. Like, I have no idea what just happened. So I had to watch it a couple of times to really get what he was saying. And believe it or not, this film didn’t work on box office. It did really poorly and it’s actually the internet where the people have started appreciating it. Because they downloaded and watched it a couple of times to actually understand what’s going on. This is something that I discovered recently that in the starting song there’s a frame before the intertitle appears where the camera
sort of zooms into Ved’s face.
Andrew Shail: Is it a zoom?
arnojyashree: I mean I think it is – it’s a little bit of zoom!
Andrew Shail: Or is it a dolly-in by any chance?
arnojyashree: I think… you could be right.
Andrew Shail: I’ve got the film open right here.
Paula Blair: We have a pedant among us. Here we go!
Andrew Shail: My sole job in teaching on the MA in film is to go ‘is it a zoom? Really?’
Paula Blair: We’re precise about the aesthetics on this podcast.
Andrew Shail: Usually, the answer is no, it’s not.
arnojyashree: It could be a dolly because literally it lasts a split second.
Andrew Shail: Okay.
arnojyashree: It’s very, very minor. Maybe you are right Andrew, it is a dolly shot, but the thing is we go forward and it just blanks into a black screen. So I usually think that, at that point, the play begins, because even though he’s trying to portray a story to his diegetic audience who we do not see at that point. So it could almost appear as if he is doing a play, just for us, the extra-diegetic audiences. But it seems that he starts telling a story in his head. Instead of doing it on the theatre-like style, it’s not happening in reality it’s actually happening in his head. Before he performs it in front of the audience he’s actually
sort of giving us a flashback of what has happened in his life. When he starts doing this, he makes himself a character because in the song all the imagined bits come into a sort of grained aesthetic and if you guys have noticed in the song he features and Tara feature as well for brief seconds and they come in that grained aesthetic as well. So I think it’s him trying to show his narrative through a flashback sequence. And it only closes out when we finally reached towards the end of the film. And we see that. Oh, so he’s the play’s actually going on and we were in his head the entire time. And that’s where we come out. yeah, I really think that the entire film is literally just a flashback sequence.
Andrew Shail: After the frame bit with the play with Ved as a robot and then after the opening song Chali Kahani… actually no, after the opening sequence and before Chali Kahani we have an intertitle that says ‘Shimla, flashback’. So what that implies is that what we’ve just been seeing is, it is in the present and that we’ve now started a flashback thing and the vast majority of film is just one huge flashback. Now, of course, as the pedant in the room, that’s how I would read the entire film that what we get is, we get the opening of this play and then it pauses and then we have this massive almost two hour long flashback that explains how the guy who both wrote this play and starred in it did so and came up with it in the first place and then everything made sense in retrospect. Or as you say that could be nonsense and we could just be seeing an imagined mental landscape that will be happening when our main character is writing this play.
Arnojya Shree: That could be it, yes.
Andrew Shail: But of course when it ends, we see the play conclude and the play’s autobiographical so it kind of tells the story of his life, and he ends up having this robot costume stripped off him, which is the story of him shedding his crap job. And then Tara appears off stage and he kind of leans offstage and kisses her and it’s a big uniting thing. So, it seemed like the whole purpose of that opening segment with the play in that closing segment of the play was to dramatize him removing himself from a life he didn’t want and then getting himself into the life that he did want while simultaneously getting the girl because he was being kept from true happiness in loads of different ways through being stuck in this life he didn’t want. But even if it isn’t the really quite down to earth pedestrian
reading where it’s simply a nonlinear narrative, rather than all happening in his head that it’s simply a nonlinear narrative, it’s still a nonlinear narrative that starts off with this thing, which isn’t explained for two hours. Why’s this guy in a robot costume walking on a treadmill on stage?
Andrew Shail: And everything that happens in that little opening performance is meaningless until we’ve got a load of metaphors explained to us, you know, an hour later, an hour and a half later, and so on. So for that, at least it is proper postmodern but it just goes, you’re just gonna have to wait.
arnojyashree: And there’s another thing. I don’t know if you guys noticed it, but do you remember when you proposes to her? And then we see their conversation going on from a full frame and then she leaves and it almost seems as if his narrative starts from there on, because up until now we had seen Tara and then Ved’s story starts. That’s also something that’s very interesting. And then it contradicts this the point that I was initially talking about that maybe it’s his flashback sequence. But even in his flashback sequence he’s including hers as well.
Andrew Shail: It’s one of those elements of this film that really struck me as unusual from a European cultural perspective is that it starts off focalized in his character as a boy and then it leaves off that and it becomes focalized in her character as an adult meeting him as a stranger as an adult, remains focalized in her when she leaves Corsica, leaves this holiday romance and goes back to India, goes back to Kolkata with her. Very much delves into her psychological state, she gets a musical sequence explaining how she feels and then when she finds him again he’s still this stranger and then the only at that moment when she goes, ‘oh, I made a really big mistake’ do we get any sense of what’s been going on in his head the entire time. I’m a big one for finding the slider and looking at just how far through a film we’ve got and it’s almost exactly at the halfway mark that that happens. It’s just a bit before the halfway mark, it’s about one hour four – no it’s exactly the halfway mark at about one hour four out of two hours eight altogether of runtime. We’re essentially being asked to wait for half of this film to get an explanation of why this character pretended to be someone he wasn’t during this opening Corsica.
arnojyashree: It’s really funny because it’s only after you finish the film that you realize that like 90% of the film is actually a meta narrative. It’s not even the actual narrative of the film, the actual one is the play and we are inside the story of a story which is which is really baffling because it’s literally all of the film.
Andrew Shail: I spend a lot of time when I’m teaching dwelling on films like Saving Private Ryan, which have really tiny frame stories. So we have some sort of present day event that lasts for about 10 seconds and then boom, we’re back into the past and but after about an hour and a half of that your average viewer has forgotten that we’re still in flashback. Or that that that that even having some sort of present day thing that links you to the past through some flashback recollection, that it even is supposed to be what’s happening. So it becomes completely reasonable that the viewer sees things that the character doing the
remembering in the present day couldn’t possibly remember. So this does exactly the same thing. It goes, ‘We’re gonna start you off in the present day. And then just forget about that for about two hours.’
arnojyashree: That’s basically it.
Andrew Shail: You said that it’s got more meat to it. It’s got more content than your average Hindi musical film. I don’t want to just go ‘tell us about your entire Master’s dissertation.’ It has some elements to it that are quite narratorial in that it feels like the film isn’t just sitting back and rather objectively spectating on events, that it’s overtly saying things like it has a form of implicit personhood in it. And one of the most blatant ways that that manifests is the
posters. Those kind of they’re a bit like intertitles. They’re in the style I think of Toulouse-Lautrec posters, and they break the film up into, I think it’s four different segments. I think there’s four of them. Maybe there’s five but the first one is called ‘Teja’s Gold’.
Andrew Shail: I think. And then second one’s called ‘Love Story’ and they just go: ‘All right, here’s a new chapter’. When dividing something into chapters, it’s quite a narratory thing to do, you know, giving something characteristic chapters, it’s quite a narratory thing to do. Is that one of those elements that you see threaded throughout this film?
arnojyashree: That’s definitely one of the things, because I don’t think it’s very common, especially not a animated vintage thing going on. And it’s a very consistent theme. Usually what intertitles do is that they would disappear. And you remember the one where it says Shimla? Yeah, yeah. So it’s usually like that. That’s where they leave it. But this one puts more effort and tries to actually show it in a somewhat linear frame that this is how it happened. This is not something that’s very common in Indian films, but I think what I’m leaning more towards is the fact that commercial Indian narratives, Bollywood films, essentially, they do not have a lot of complexity going on in the narratives, it’s pretty easy to follow. It’s a formula and they just repeat the same formula over and over again. This film is very different. Imtiaz Ali usually does love stories, but his love stories are a bit different from others. So this one I think is the one that outdoes any of them, any of his films. Yeah, it’s very layered. Definitely. I don’t think layering is a very common trait in Indian films, especially not in Bollywood films. So yeah, that’s something that, that’s why I always think that this is something that’s not very unlike Indian cinema.
Paula Blair: I felt there was very much a European arts influence really strongly in it.
Andrew Shail: One of the points that our storyteller character who’s telling stories to the young Ved at the beginning, one of the points that he implicitly makes is these stories in Hindu mythology, are entire – well it’s not in Hindu is it? It’s Indian Subcontinent mythology. These stories that we’re used to, they are the relatives of stories that exist in Europe, they exist in the Mediterranean, that exist in the Middle East, it just kind of slips back and forth between them. So I suppose that character as a surrogate for the director is saying what the director is doing as well, that slipping between styles.
arnojyashree: I’ve actually seen an interview of Imtiaz Ali a few days ago. It’s on Netflix. It’s called creative Indians. So you’ll find a lot of good actors and directors on there. So his interview was one of them and he was talking about how he hates the story writing process, but he loves directing it and he has absolutely no background in direction, no connection to cinema industry. He just happened to love films and somehow bumped into filmmaking, because nothing else was working out for him. He says that whenever he makes a film what he actually wants to do is he wants to put through a very emotional story. Because he’s making a film about human beings and he says that he doesn’t like to intellectualize things or make them seem complex or say that, ‘oh my God, there’s some grand mystery to
the universe’. He’s not trying to do that at all. He just wants to present stories, basically, of people being people. So a lot of his characters he has taken inspiration from his surroundings, how he goes about in his life, and he says that sometimes he doesn’t even remember that he’s doing this, but his in his story writing process these people translate into characters. And when he’s directing the scene and one character says something to the other character he’d be like, ‘Oh my God, this person had told me this years ago’. So it’s a very subconscious emotional process for him to genuinely make a story.
Paula Blair: I suppose that’s what any of us are. We are vessels for the stories we collect throughout our lives and I really get the sense that the film is almost like a regurgitation of all the stories that Ved collects throughout his life.
arnojyashree: It’s a very same similar characteristic, because if you see, even as a child web is collecting stories from the storyteller, but he imagines them happening to real people around him. It just happens throughout his life.
Andrew Shail: In part of the film, one of its crisis moments being that Ved goes to the now very, very old storyteller, Ved’s an adult, he goes to the storyteller
and says, ‘Tell me how my story ends’, and the crisis moment is that the storyteller says to him, ‘Don’t be an idiot. You have to decide how your story ends’. To an
extent the film seems to be saying that there’s a sensible limit to one’s obsession with stories, and that it’s just as important to try to create your own. Does it mean trying to create something original as far as the film is concerned? I suppose what the early lesson in the film is that there are no original stories, there are these many, many stories are all very much related. There’s even a bit with the storyteller talks about how just the names of characters in different mythologies are similar enough to indicate that they’re related. I suppose if Imtiaz Ali is trying to create a film which is unlike previous Indian Hindi language films that he may feel that in addition to paying homage to all these existing storytelling traditions that he has to also kind of assassinate them to go ‘In order to do something new I’m going to have to throw out expectations, and that means having a character symbolically reject his childhood obsession with stories.’ That may be completely wrong, of course. The doing it on a stage element. The doing it with other kind of snapshots for your own life from your life behind you element. That seems to be the thing that’s he is missing from his life is the ability to tell his own story is what’s missing from his life. So it may not even be whether the story is original or not. That is the deficiency in him. It’s just the ability to be a storyteller. So I suppose that bit with that storyteller saying to him ‘No, you have to finish your own story.’ The problem is not that his story might be unoriginal, the problem is that he’s not been the one telling it.
Andrew Shail: And I suppose that does fit with the fact that for the first half of the film, he’s a mystery. He’s been this someone who other people encounter. He’s been this audience member when we did meet him as a child. And that may explain why it is that in the rough second half of the film when it starts to focalize in him that he’s so angry.
Andrew Shail: That was something that struck both Paula and I when when he has that crisis. So he’s been dumped by Tara because she goes, oh, having met you in the flesh in real life, not pretending to be the character who you pretended to be in Corsica, you’re a different person. I kind of find you boring. I don’t want to do this and she says no to his proposal. Then suddenly we’re focalized in him. And from that moment onwards, he’s having this kind of disintegration and, of course, initially, it seems that he’s disintegrating because he’s been dumped, but then it becomes apparent that he’s disintegrating because he realizes how far he’s gone from his story-loving youth that he’s become a very boring work-a-day office employee and he’s become that in his everyday life as well. That scene when he goes to her apartment. I think the next scene after she said, No, no, I can’t marry you, you’re a different person from who I thought you were.
Andrew Shail: That scene where she goes, he goes to her apartment. And he goes, he just wants to explain but every few sentences he just breaks into a shout. And that was one of those moments where I think do I remember correctly here Paula that when you and I were watching it we went oh this is kind of borderline violent the way that he’s shouting at her.
Paula Blair: Yeah it tipped over. Yeah, it’s a very fine line. I think it was more when much later when they meet in a bar and she’s trying to be quite friendly with him and he gets really aggressive. But then she’s almost scared and she’s apologizing. And she says, Oh, I’ll take the ring. I’ll be with you. It’s all fine and it feels like gosh it’s almost like an abusive relationship. It’s quite scary. So the tone really shifts in quite a scary way I think. But I don’t know if that’s a, maybe it’s a cultural thing or I’m not sure. But yeah, I just felt like because the rest of the film was so joyful, it feels. I don’t know if you’ve any thoughts on that.
arnojyashree: Well, one of the interpretations of the film is that Ved actually has a multiple personality disorder.
Paula Blair: Yeah.
Andrew Shail: It would explain a lot.
arnojyashree: Yeah. Not to like to look at it from a sort of disorder thing, but I like to think that you know how you go through life and you don’t really find
connections with anybody. And even if, like you’re talking to somebody and they you tell them, okay. I’m fine. And you’re not really fine. They don’t see it.
They’ll just believe you by word. But if somebody actually really sees you, and feels that connect with you, they will know that you are going through something or
they’ll know the real you just through that connection that you guys have. And that’s how I like to think that Ved actually has never found anybody who is as
passionate as he is or who thinks and feels and acts the same way as him so when he meets Tara in Corsica, they get on really well and they find this connection
between themselves and when he goes back he gets into a role because that’s exactly what he says that I came to Corsica and I’m going to play a role, I didn’t come
here to be myself who I’m every day of my life. So when he goes back into this robotic routine of his and he realizes that this person that I had a connect with,
she’s the same as she was before. And then she starts pointing it out in him. And he’s like, Who are you to tell me who I should be? I’ve lived so long like this
and I’m fine and everything is fine and balanced in my life. The way it’s supposed to be. Everything is normal, you know, and she’s like, No, you’re not normal.
This is not normalcy. This is actually you playing a role and he’s just he feels called out, he feels like somebody’s just seen his truth basically and exposed him
to himself. So I think that point of somebody telling you something about yourself that you have never noticed, I think that’s where he has a breakdown, he realizes that all of his life has basically been a facade that he has created in his own life because he’s not brave enough to live his own story. He’s heard all these stories since his childhood and he tries to live in them in his head. But he forgets that he himself is in a story, that’s his story. All of us have our own realities and narratives going on and he forgets that he is alive in one. That’s why I think I the storyteller scene where you know towards the end when they finally meet. That’s one of my favorite bits from the film because he literally asks him, like what is your story? You have to. You’re the one who’s going to decide that. I can’t tell you that. And even though all of the stories around the world are the same. And that’s what Imtiaz Ali was trying to point out that we are all living the similar lives. But in different clothes in different sort of forms. But that doesn’t mean that you know you can look at another person’s life and
go by how they have done things, not really. You can get inspired from a story, but you can’t live it that way. You have to find that originality within you and learn how to implement that in your life. So I think that’s one of the major things that Imtiaz is trying to talk about and that’s what Ved gets to realize in his story, like the film is actually him just realizing this that I’m a story and I have to decide how I write it.
Andrew Shail: It’s appropriate than that the revealed source of Ved’s metaphorical enslavement in this robotic job is his dad’s insistence that he do was an engineering degree, his dad just you have to go go to university and do this. And enough dreaming. I basically dictate your career to you and so it’s appropriate that the way that he escapes that family drama is by telling a story. As an adult, he just sits down in front of his dad, who’s been constantly disapproving of him and is now even disapproving of him now that he’s an adult and he’s having this crisis where he he realizes that he’s become a bit of a robot. Still is disapproving is still saying why don’t just Buck your ideas up and get back to work. He sits down in front of his dad and his what seems to be his mum and
Paula / Arnnojya: grandmother
Andrew Shail: yeah sits down, sit down in front of the oppressive family and tells them a story and it’s the story of himself and what he’s going to do to escape this imprisonment and then that’s the moment of completely implausible reversal of his dad’s position, but his dad just he does that kind of melodramatic standing up and hugging somebody at the same time kind of that physical virtually rugby tackling somebody kind of move. And I suppose on the literal level. It’s like, you know, it’s a character going I refuse to be part of this particular family control system anymore, but it’s also it’s figuratively pushing back against story
conventions, because it is such a convention in Indian film. And I speak from so much authority! Such a convention in Indian film that one’s family’s desires for you are determining of your life choices.
Arnojya Shree: Yeah.
Andrew Shail: I’ve been meaning to ask – you’ve pointed out various elements in which this film is, it tries to break apart the mould of Bollywood storytelling conventions, but at the same time, it does seem to stick with some of them. Now correct me if I’m wrong here, but the exotic location, which is not in anywhere in the subcontinent at all where a couple of young cosmopolitan characters have a whirlwind romance. Isn’t that relatively characteristic of recent indian films?
arnojyashree: A lot of them. That’s… My dissertation mentions this that post 1980s, I think, just shooting an international locations became such a thing for like the Indian directors, because what they wanted was to increase the element of identification with their other audiences and to make the film more relatable to like show that Okay, we can reach beyond the diaspora, basically. So that’s why you would always see a lot of globalized aspects in the films. One of them is shooting films in international locations and sometimes it’s literally just a song, but you have to bring that one element of going beyond India, going beyond the Indian culture.
Andrew Shail: See, we’re talking here from the total experience of me having seen about five or six films and Paula and I having seen Tiger Zinda Hai. Is it Hi? Hey?
arnojyashree: Hey. Hey.
Andrew Shail: Having seen it at the Metro Centre Odeon recently. And it starts in Switzerland. Most of the drama takes place in somewhere in the Middle East on a spy mission and then it concludes in Greece. And we have almost exactly the same kind of structure in Tamasha it in that it starts, well doesn’t quite start, after those opening sequences, it starts in Corsica. And then we have that seemingly completely pointless ending sequence in Japan.
arnojyashree: Oh, yeah.
Andrew Shail: It’s just another another exotic cosmopolitan location.
Andrew Shail: So it seems that he he may have had a quota. You have to have two exotic locations. It may also be that that moment in the middle of the film where things get quite vicious where he gets quite shouty and he and Tara get into what is nearly a fight. It’s really interestingly choreographed isn’t it where she’s trying to grab hold of him and he’s trying to stop her grabbing hold of him and their arms get kind of tangled up in each other. It’s kind of elbows in ears kind of territory. And then, and then they both kind of collapse onto this this desk. And they’ve got their heads on the desk and I think he’s holding her head against
the desk in a slightly joking, but also slightly not joking kind of way. That the tonal shift there was outside of the territory of romantic comedy. Because ordinarily, the sphere of the genre of romantic comedy is that there’ll be a kind of break up and some rather melodramatic shouting at each other in the street, but it won’t get to the point where it’s physically threatening. Those tonal shifts. Those seem to be endemic to Bollywood films, because of the Masala principle. Now that might not apply at all anymore, but this is the principle, isn’t it, where you have to basically pack in about five different genres into the same film.
arnojyashree: That’s true, yeah.
Andrew Shail: You have to get in action and romance and comedy and musical and Tamasha didn’t do that. But it seemed to be pulled in the direction, just slightly in the direction of doing that. Hence that rather incongruous feeling bit in the middle where it really stepped outside of the boundaries of romantic comedy. So I know we’re kind of licking Imtiaz Ali here by going he’s really moving outside of the box. But you can see bits of the box there, I think.
arnojyashree: Yeah. I’ll tell you guys a very interesting trivia about this, which I even learned like So, like that. The song that where they sort of start getting into a fight in a bar. That song was actually not entirely directed by Imtiaz Ali, he just left the two actors to improvise on it and he never improvises. He literally has said that if they improvise in acting, that’s fine with me but words and all, I get to do that, that’s my story. So I will tell them what to say and what not to say. These two actors were actually in a relationship, a very intense relationship ages ago. And when the scene was happening, everybody felt like it was not Ved and Tara.
Andrew Shail: Ah right.
arnojyashree: Two actual people going through the whatever trauma was there left in the relationship that was coming out. The acting in that scene is different from the rest of the film like that just automatically comes out because it’s so intense. And you see that a line of acting has been crossed and it’s become a very real life thing in its own way. It might not have been his intention to make it so out of com like romantic comedy, but it just became its own thing.
Andrew Shail: I wonder if he regrets it
arnojyashree: I don’t think so, because this scene has been talked about a lot. And if you YouTube this, I think there’s a complete analysis of this that he has done himself. Actually it’s one of the, people love the song and scene the most throughout the film, just because of that energy that the characters have.
Paula Blair: There’s tremendous chemistry between these two actors and characters. Before you mentioned that story I was wondering if… Because the film becomes so subjectively aligned with each of them at different times, if that was part of it. If there was a crossing over into a bit of reality because when we remember things we will add our own spin on it, you know, our memories are never fixed. We will change and we will warp them. We will imagine different outcomes for the same memory, something from the past. So I was wondering if you could read it like that, that maybe that’s what one of them imagined was happening, but that’s really fascinating that there’s a tipping over into actual, real life. And so there’s a theatricality of the real on top of the theatricality that’s going on in the film.
arnojyashree: It is, it is, it’s exactly like… The fact that you can sense it means that’s what anybody who doesn’t even know about their past probably thinks that an element of acting in film and stories sort of crosses over and becomes a very real to real life thing right there.
Andrew Shail: I wouldn’t take the job if it was an ex partner is going to be playing of this film.
Paula Blair: It’s different for actors, though.
Andrew Shail: There’s no amount of money.
arnojyashree: I couldn’t imagine like especially a love story. And that to such an intense love story. I don’t know how they did that. I would be throwing bricks!
Andrew Shail: While we’re on the grown up elements of this, we have we have two questions for you. There seemed to be a bit of taboo-breaking going on in the Corsica segment in that both of our main characters were drinking openly and enjoying it openly and not getting punished for it openly. And they were they were doing plenty of kissing. And then just as she’s leaving. She seems resolved to leave and to just do it without saying goodbye. But then when the cab is just outside the hotel she runs back up to his room, goes in, takes off her shoes and climbs into bed with him. And it seems that what they do is they just do some kissing there. And I thought, hang on. She’s taken off her shoes. Is that symbolic that they’re doing more than just kissing?
arnojyashree: Basically yes. I would, I was surprised because there is so little. Usually these days there are more, there are entire sequences around it, and it’s not that frowned upon any more like in Indian narratives, you’ve got like kissing going on, public kissing like and everything like intimate scenes do come on a lot, which is something my mother has a lot of problems with. It’s hard to watch anything with her anymore!
Andrew Shail: The reason why we thought that might be a bit unlikely, is that it might just be she literally takes her shoes off and it’s not a code for something. She does it while there’s a cab waiting. So if they do have sex, they either have it really quickly
arnojyashree: There you go.
Andrew Shail: or they really test the patience of that cab driver.
arnojyashree: I think it’s the former.
Andrew Shail: Okay and while we’re on grown up things, we noticed, when we watched this on Netflix. Right. And we know that that’s not necessarily how it would have appeared in cinemas. But when we watched it and of course it’s subtitled almost entirely in English the version that we’re watching, even the points where they keep they keep switching into English. Why is the subtitled? But just for cleanliness’s sake. There’s that one moment where where they’re in character as the two people they are playing in Corsica. The people they are playing, one of them is an Interpol agent.
arnojyashree: police officer
Andrew Shail: And Tara is claiming to be working for a local gangster. And then she just lapses into for a moment into another character where she’s saying, Okay, so obviously you brought me here for sex right and then she lays out her price structure and in the subtitles it said what she was talking about. So she mentions anal, she mentions doggy style. Right. But at that moment, I noticed that the audio cut out
arnojyashree: Oh yeah. And some bits you can’t hear it. But obviously, you do know what it means. So they cut out the actual word without actually cutting it out. So you just hear a little bit and then it cuts off.
Andrew Shail: Ah right. So that’s how it would have played in cinemas then originally when it came out is that she says the beginning of the word for anal and then… Oh right. I suppose that’s a way of getting around censorship.
arnojyashree: Well, it is, but, actually frankly I was quite confused why they cut off the audio because if you watch any of the Indian films or web series nowadays, everything is so frank and out there. There’s no regards for censorship at all, especially in our languages because they do tend to show more raw conversations going on between characters. So, it was not necessary really
Andrew Shail: Maybe it was a ratings thing. You often hear about films having tiny changes made to them right at the getting rated stage, just in order to get down to a PG 13 or equivalent rating.
Paula Blair: I think just we’re on language, this is going to be a very silly British thing to ask because obviously, there’s the legacy of colonialism. I find it really fascinating that the language dips in and out of English so often. You know they’re speaking in Hindi, but then you’ll get a word or a phrase in English. The few Hindi films that we’ve watched together, this is just a really common thing that happens, and I don’t know if it’s generational or if it’s always like that. I don’t know if there’s anything… For any other Western Anglophone people watching it, is there anything you think would be useful to point to help us along with
arnojyashree: Well, I think that’s a very common thing to do. I think because you everybody has been taught English since they were children so they apply it in how they converse with each other. You would expect me to say that, well, this is how I talk with my parents, but no, this is actually how I talk with my grandparents as well. So it’s always been there English has just always been there in our vocabulary. So you’ll find it like a lot of films, actually, this is, this is going to be surprising that films tend to make their scripts more inclined towards Hindi, and that’s actually not how people in India talk. Do you remember Andrew you’ve
seen Devdas the one with Sanjay Leela Bhansali. The 2002 film.
Andrew Shail: I know it’s one of the most. It’s like a landmark film of Indian cinema history, um no I haven’t.
arnojyashree: Well, if you see something like that and they talk purely in Hindi there. It’s not how we talk. So that’s something that’s just for the narrative purpose, but usually people just talk the way Ved and Tara talk.
Andrew Shail: For people whose first language is English the phenomenon of switching is almost exclusively associated with being pretentious. It’s almost exclusively associated with switching into French to try to sound culturally sophisticated and it’s now known as the Del Boy Trotter phenomenon and almost invariably you get it wrong. And so switching’s just associated with people being idiots in fiction. But if it’s a normal part of life, given that you live in a multilingual culture, then I suppose we’re looking at an attempt to try and make these characters relatable.
arnojyashree: Mm hmm. That’s that. Yeah.
Andrew Shail: I’ve been to India a couple of times. And one thing I found is that the version of English that I encountered there, it felt like reading 18th-century fiction. 18th-century version of English where these words, these naval words that we don’t use in everyday English now had somehow found a place to survive.
Andrew Shail: A guy once was talking to me about yoga exercises that I could do in bed and he said you could do this in your cot. And that’s a term we use for what babies sleep in. It actually used to be the name for any bed that wasn’t a hammock on ships. So that word survived in India as a result of unfortunate historical relationships.
Andrew Shail: When it hadn’t survived here at all and so many elements like um I’ve heard the word avail the verb avail used in India quite commonly. We get we talk about how we might avail ourselves of a certain discount.
arnojyashree: Yeah, that’s how they talk.
Andrew Shail: It’s oddly formal. When you learn any language as a second language, what you tend to learn is a slightly older version of the language than what is spoken by native speakers anyway. The French I learned at school apparently is the French spoken by the grandparents of the current generation. So there’s it’s automatically going to happen. Tell us about the music.
arnojyashree: That’s my favourite bit. Well the music is by A. R. Rahman. By now I’m pretty sure, I mean, I think the entire world, if anybody’s ever read my blog
or my Instagram account, they know I love it. Yeah, I praise the guy so much. His music is really, really, really, really beautiful in this film, because every song
is like a story on its own. And that’s actually how I stumbled upon the concept of my dissertation that Chali Kahani is actually not a song. It’s a narrative.
Because there are repeated bits for sure, but the song is structured in the form of a play or multiple stories happening at once, and then they are intervening in
each other’s worlds. So you’ve got like pairs like Romeo and Juliet. And then you’ve got Helen and Troy [Paris] and somehow Helen is with Romeo and Troy [Paris] is
with Juliet. So it’s like all meshed into one another. That’s one thing and another like the song, which is the one where they’re fighting. That has that actually does not function as a traditional duet. It’s more like the woman starts singing first then she finishes. And then the guy. He has been singing in the background of the female vocals and then he sort of takes his own verse. So every song is very, very, you know, different from another another again here the song which comes during Tara’s narrative when she is upset and she’s thinking about what’s going on in my life that song is Punjabi; Tara is not a Punjabi woman. She’s not from
Punjab, but it’s a Punjabi song. You’ve got all the traditional singers and they are the actual sing local singers of the area. So again, it’s the cultural interaction happening there. In a traditional sense, everything is very mixed into one another. And that’s another thing that complements the storyline, because just like stories dipping into one another. It’s songs in the way they have been you know visualized or vocalized or composed, they also sort of tag along the same parallel concept that everything can everything can talk about another thing. So like, even though I am Indian, my life can be very similar to an English person. And just because we’re different doesn’t mean that there are different ways of living or different things are happening in these two areas, not really. So I think that’s a similarity that that music has in this film as well.
Andrew Shail: There’s a magical realist element to some of the songs isn’t there in that the one that’s called Wat Wat Wat, the one sung by the the auto rickshaw driver. That one is shown to be taking place to be performed in a very small musical venue. But then it keeps flicking to other locations to indicate that this is actually happening in someone’s head and that is actually performing it sitting at a roadside cafe without a musical accompaniment, without lights, without anything. So there’s lots of showing us things as if they’re happening in the diegesis, where they’re actually in their internal scenes, the imaginary scenes for one of the characters, if at all, you know, they could be imaginary scenes for some implicit narrator. So here I’m pushing you back into your dissertation topic.
arnojyashree: When I was watching the song last night actually, I thought that when Ved stares so intensely at the rickshaw driver it almost seems that in Ved’s head the narrative control of the song has been gone to rickshaw driver and he’s seeing him perform and sing about something that he is going through. So in the starting initial part of the song, then like vocal controls are over to the driver and then when he sees him in real life again just sitting there just singing without any instruments, he sort of you know come go comes out of his head, and he’s like, Oh shit, this, this guy knows what his story is, but I don’t. And then he
goes back into his mind again and take so that there’s a switch in the vocal singers that it’s not the same guy singing the entire song.
Andrew Shail: Oh right.
arnojyashree: When he looks at the rickshaw driver singing, he goes back in his mind and then he got again start singing in the stash back sequence.
Andrew Shail: And am I right in thinking that none of the people who we actually see singing except for that Punjabi group no one else is actually singing what we hear.
Andrew Shail: Okay, then it’s all playback singers?
Andrew Shail: Now that now that is one of those very odd things about one of those elements of cultural difference that does tend to strike Europeans as being a really weird way of doing films, but it’s probably just more overtly the case in Hindi films than it is in musicals made elsewhere because it’s probably quite a common practice having someone…
Paula Blair: I would say so yeah.
Andrew Shail: It’s just that the voices are so much more incongruous. This voice is very clearly not the voice that would have come out of this person’s mouth. What’s it called, Matargashti song, the one in Corsica. Yeah, the singing, there appears to be, it’s like the singers have been taught to make it even more shrill than they normally would to indicate that this is not coming out of the mouths of these two people, even though that’s how its presented, you know, I may be way off on this.
arnojyashree: This is something that I discovered when I was doing my dissertation actually that singers were chosen for their vocal abilities and how they can match to the tone of the singer just to make sure that the audience who was not aware of playback singing like you guys you would confuse it with the actual person singing. It’s made to sound like that. So if you actually go to and check the tone, the tones really do much with the actor and the singer. Except that again he’s his vocal capabilities. Yeah, he makes it shrill in one song, but he’s more subtle and horse in the other bits. In Matargashti the shrilling more has to. It has to do with the theme of the song that it’s so upbeat and they’re so happy and excited so I think that’s the element that’s trying to come out in the vocal tone.
Paula Blair: They’re very catchy tunes as well, they’re earworms. I’ve found myself you know they’re going over and over in my mind actually for the past few days since watching the film. Really enjoying them!
arnojyashree: The songs are catchy, yeah.
Andrew Shail: Arnojya sent me a playlist of up upwards of 30 songs I think it was the ones that are you going, you’re going to be working on for your dissertation. And one day, Paula and I just sat down and we just watched as many as we had time to watch.
arnojyashree: Oh wow.
Andrew Shail: And Kun Faya Kun, I cannot get that out of my head now. Because it’s one, it’s from one of Imtiaz Ali’s earlier films. And it’s sung by a character played by Ranbir Kapoor. So the same person who plays Ved. I’m definitely in agreement that AR Rahman is quite a good composer.
arnojyashree: He is.
Andrew Shail: It’s an understatement.
arnojyashree: I mean if you’re interested in his music, even the best one, like the worst ones have the best music ever and Rockstar is actually known for its music and Kun Faya Kun is definitely one of the classics that Rahman has ever done because it brings out that Sufi element of the song. And this song is actually… the singles that you still seeing the visuals, they actually perform in the same spot in the same … in India, and this is the same song. They have literally just been invited to the studio to record the track and they just sing it there and then the vocals of other company like singers are added. But yes, original song.
Andrew Shail: We’ve got our next podcast, then haven’t we, next episode. You see we had a Sofia Coppola season, about a year ago.
Paula Blair: No. It’s longer ago than that. It was way back at the start yeah 2018.
Andrew Shail: Was it two years ago?
Paula Blair: Yeah and this year has been a write off, I know, because of pandemic reasons. But yeah, a lot of the things you’re remembering are from ages ago.
Andrew Shail: Do you remember Arnojya that thing I did which was a very thorough analysis of the thematic and stylistic signature of Sofia Coppola looking at all of her commercial feature films? I did that because I had a dissertation student who was working on Coppola and so I just had watched all of her films. And because I had done those, Paula and I recorded podcast episodes and so I thought well I’ve done most of the work now so I’ll just do this analysis. Imtiaz Ali has directed what 10, 12 films, though?
arnojyashree: Yeah, not all of them are good but you know he has his good ones. The thing with him is that it’s the same theme going on. It’s different but it’s almost similar because there’s traveling, there’s self discovery. There’s sort of spirituality, there’s love, there’s family, there’s relationships. So different narratives, but the same things.
Andrew Shail: You were originally going to write entirely on Imtiaz Ali for your dissertation, weren’t you, so it shows quite some restraint that you worked on more than one director.
arnojyashree: Yeah. That was a hard decision, but then I was like, it’s fine.
Paula Blair: It’s getting quite late, we’ve been going for well over an hour now. We’ve taken a lot of your time and you’ve been so informative. It’s been brilliant. Arnojya, you mentioned that you have a blog and Instagram and stuff. Would you like to just point people towards those?
arnojyashree: Sure. Thank you so much for the opportunity. Well, I have an Instagram account that’s basically my name, but it’s literally @arnojyashree. So I usually post reviews there and video edits, my poetry. I started getting into film writing and review writing because of the poetry stuff. Just gave it a shot and just happened. So my film blog is the one where I post reviews of all the films that I’m reviewing and I almost review one every week because I do it for the Courier, the university newspaper. You can find it at letterstofilm.wordpress.com.
Paula Blair: Great. And is that just anything that’s out at the minute, or is it just anything at all that you’re watching that you would write about?
arnojyashree: It’s almost anything. Like if I watch a film, and it really intrigues me and things start to come up in my head I just write down a review.
Paula Blair: Cool, it’s good to keep those writing muscles flexed, I think.
Andrew Shail: Do you know how I flexed my writing muscles over summer? Emails to you! This summer, just, I just have to tell some humans about this. Understandably the university that I work for has done some really serious reorganizing of itself over the summer. Which has been, which meant that we’ve actually just replan all of our teaching and so the summer is where we normally do research that’s just been wiped out completely. So the only outlet that I’ve had over the past three, four months for doing any thinking through actual ideas has been dissertation supervision and so I’ve had, Arnojya, I’ve had a student writing about representations of Muslims in American films, I’ve had a student writing about Douyin, so the Chinese version of TikTok. I’ve had a student writing about Spike Lee. And I’ve had a
student writing about journalistic representations of the civil war in Syria. So I’ve just been vicariously doing research over the summer. So this is a an attempt just to put some of these thoughts down in a form that’s more than just a dissertation, although I probably shouldn’t put the word just before the word dissertation, should I? Because what it’s 18,000 words worth a third of an entire degree and if it’s something that you intend to continue to do I always recommend that your Master’s dissertation should be the basis of the very first scholarly article that you get published. For me, it was the basis of one of my entire research areas, Cultural History of menstruation and you feel the same way about your Masters Paula, don’t you, that this was the beginning of part of you.
Paula Blair: There were definitely seeds in mine. Yes. I wrote mine about surrealism and documentary. That’s something I’m still working through I think.
Andrew Shail: And all degrees should be one-year degrees. Enough of this three year nonsense. Do it in one!
Paula Blair: The Masters is so special. It’s my, it was definitely my fave, the dissertation was my favourite, favourite thing.
Andrew Shail: Because people just left you alone for a long time wasn’t it? You’re ready to be left alone at that point. Arnojya what are you going to do next, long-term?
arnojyashree: Well, I think writing’s just always going to be a part of me so films as well. So right now I’m just looking for any editorial positions that are open up. But recently, I’ve actually in fact today. I’ve had the opportunity to work with a really renowned Indian photographer. He’s a specialist in panorama pictures and he goes about photographing the lesser known architecture and historical buildings in India. So things which are literally left behind, or nobody talks about anymore. So he’s doing a project and it’s literally a voluntary position so I don’t know if I’m taking it yet, but he’s asked me to lead a group of storytellers.
So basically, I’ll be looking at all the scripts that go online for the project. So that is something that might be happening over the course of three to six months from now. Apart from that, I’m just looking out for jobs at the moment and doing a bit of writing here and there. So I continue to write for the university and my own blog, of course. So yeah, a lot of writing, I guess.
Paula Blair: Great. Well, open door. If you ever want to come back and chat about whatever you’re working on it’d be really lovely to hear from you, I’ve really enjoy this so much. Thank you.
arnojyashree: Thank you for having me here. This is seriously one of the most wonderful opportunities I’ve received yet. This… amazing!
Paula Blair: Your bar is very low Arnojya.
arnojyashree: No, it isn’t. Working with Andrew is like outside of uni. I’m just like, holy shit!
Andrew Shail: One of the reasons we’re doing this is that I’m not marking your Master’s dissertation. In something like five weeks and you’ll have another degree. And one that really like as the figures indicate that having a master’s degree really does give you an edge on people when it comes to getting management level jobs. Although I don’t think any of us want to get a management level job.
Arnojya Shree: No, I don’t. Yeah.
Andrew Shail: Maybe you’re going down exactly the right route of selling your labour for absolutely zero money. Long may this last. I’m going to press a big red button.
Paula Blair: Good luck with everything Arnojya, and honestly keep in touch, it would be lovely to hear from you again. Thank you so much.
arnojyashree: Thank you for having me.