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Tathagat: A  Commendable Film That  Takes Itself Too Seriously





Starring Harish KhannaGhanshayam Lalsa, Himanshu Bhandari

Written  & Directed by  Manav Kaul

Rating: ***

Tathagat as the  title  suggests, is a  meditative melancholic  mood-piece on mortality. It  is  suffused with ideas   and  ruminations  on  the quality  of life. But clearly  the restless  disjointed  thought-processes  do not culminate  in any  definitive cogent  perceptions on the question that haunts the  protagonist: what makes life worth living, if not memories?

Harish Khanna  whom I’ve seen in powerful but  mostly grey peripheral roles, is as grey as they come in this film. He  is worshipped as a messiah  of sorts  in the Himalayan  hamlet where the plot nestles uneasily. But Baba(as he is addressed by his disciples) is clearly not  the committed godman that he is taken to be.

He has a guilty secret  in his past which keeps  raring its head like some of kind of  a sinfully catchy tune that  you can’t  get  out of  your head(the kind Pritam Chakraborty normally  composes). You see, Baba when he  was  a little boy(adorably  played by little Himanshu Bhandari who pretends to understand Manav Kaul’s dense   ideas  far  better than the  adult actors)  had a not-so-secret crush on his aunt.She led him with  a sexless  coquettishness.

Savita Rani  plays the aunt as a non-conformist who can’t.   Fit  in , I mean.She  flirts with  the little  boy with an  aloof incestuousness and giggles with her  daft boyfriend about not being able to bathe little Suraj any more because , wink wink, he is  not so little any more.

The  whole Suraj-Mausi axis reminded me of Deepa Mehta’s  Funny Boy where the little protagonist Arjie follows his sexy aunt around like  a little lamb.

The vibes here  in Tathagat refuse to get sexual because , you see, this is  film that  thinks with its head, not  its  genitals.The heavily intellectualized  narrative needed  to loosen  up  and unwind. The  characters, barring the  seductive Mausi, hardly have a smile to  spare. They are  all   busy trying to  solve the  puzzle of their individual existence .

It is impossible to  find  a core  to the  plot in Tathagat. As the  aged Baba and his  child  version  converse  like two metaphorical emblems in the desert,  trying hard to  remain true to the  gravity that surrounds them, a passionate mentor-pupil relationship emerges between  Baba and his favourite disciple(feelingly played by  Ghanshyam Lalsa). I wish the  film had focused on this relationship. It has some interesting spiky edges that writer-director Manav Kaul is not in the mood to explore.

By the  time this exhausting yet exhilarating  film ends we standing  on the  summit  of the Himalaya where  Baba and his child avatar  are  seen holding a  scrap of paper which says sorry. Never have  I felt sorrier to see a promising  film miss the mark by  a few miles . Too busy travelling , Tathagat forgets where it  is  going.

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