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Tathagat: A Commendable Film That Takes Itself Too Seriously
Starring Harish Khanna, Ghanshayam Lalsa, Himanshu Bhandari
Written & Directed by Manav Kaul
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.