Routinely, we love to sweep the truth about Hindu-Muslim relations under the carpet. Or simply sugar-coat it to make the actual volume of mutual distrust and animosity palatable to a nation steeped in escapism and self-delusion.
Dekh Tamasha Dekh, directed by theatre legend Feroz Abbas Khan (of Tumhari Amrita fame) is a jolting wake-up call for a nation swept into a slumberous silence by the status quo. Put simply, we don't want to face the reality about the friction that simmers just under the surface among the two communities.
Dekh Tamasha Dekh is perhaps the first Hindi film which ventures into the vista of vitriolic without the fear of offending the more refined sections of the audience who may not be comfortable watching the vanguards and trouble-makers of the two communities addressing each other with the harshest of epithets.
This is not a film about niceties. The director doesn't allow the narrative to nibble daintily at corrosive socio-political matters. Rather, the narrative chews industriously on the political issues. By using the twin missiles of satire and irony, he brings into a play a kind of pinned-down provocativeness into the plot whereby the characters become real and representational simultaneously.
Miraculously, the film is both a parable and a topical comment on communal relations. This is a film that takes burning headlines and converts them into slices of incriminating illustration on man and the beast within. The smell of authenticity pervades the destiny of the political-driven nefariously motivated characters.
This is literary cinema. The characters and their situations unfold like chapters from an epic novel. This is Govind Nihalani's Tamas without the recognisable punctuation marks. The director authors the characters' destiny in scenes that are written like chapters. Amazingly, the context of the scenes are explained to the audience without the crutches of a voice-over.
Take that lengthy but hilarious sequence where the newspaper editor Mutha Seth (Satish Kaushik, slimy and Machiavellian as he can be) summons the newspaper editor and treats him like a pet dog - literally barking orders to both the canine and the editor at the same time. Elsewhere, a wife (Tanvi Azmi, eloquence personified) grieve for her dead husband while women of the neighbourhood join in to while away their time while waiting for the taps to supply water.
A mother-daughter sequence towards the end featuring the lyrical Tanvi Azmi and her on-screen daughter (Apoorva Arora) reminds us that political cinema need not be dry and emotionless. As the characters shed their humanism, the plot gathers a sense of tragic redemption that we sense waiting around the corner.
It's the kingdom of the quirky and the tragic. Khan portrays a world that is both bizarre and poignant.
Images of violence and retribution coalesce in Khan's world, which is replete with stark visuals of the town-people bickering bitterly over a non-issue that's been blown out of all proportions by trouble-makers.
Dekh Tamasha Dekh is a work of many contradictory forces pulling and tugging at the plot as it stretches out in a saga of valour and vitality, caprice and cowardice. Remarkably, the narrative makes no use of extraneous artificial sounds to create a heightened drama.
The natural sounds that pervade the soundtrack add to an eerie sense of a world of fearsome anxieties. Indeed, sound designer Baylon Fonseca is one of the heroes of this film. Sreekar Prasad edits the material to retain the rawness of mood without sacrificing the smoothness of narration. Hemant Chaturvedi's cinematography sweeps across the town prowling to peep into homes and hearts that are a flame with an anxious identity crisis.
Rarely does cinema take us so deep into the socio-political dynamics of communal disharmony. Honest to the core, brutal, ironical and disturbing, the director's world of Hindu-Muslim strife is cluttered with a compelling tension that erupts into welters of well-aimed social comment.
What we come away with is a film committed to mirroring the murk and mirth of organized religion and a disorganized system of governance which plays a game of appeasement with religious communities, setting off one group of people against another.
Stark, real, disturbing, ironical, funny and gripping, Dekh Tamasha Dekh is the film Govind Nihalani would have made if only he had the freedom to call a spade a spade. Not all the truth of Khan's cinema is palatable or even fully intelligible. But there is little here that doesn't provide food for thought.
This is a film that addresses itself to ideas and thoughts buried away from human consideration. We don't want to consider to what depth human nature can fall if pushed against a dirty wall. To record the dirt on the wall and the blood on the floor with such clarity and honesty is not within the creative powers of every filmmaker.
This is an important treatise of our times, and it should not be missed by any Indian.