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Movie Review 'Dekh Tamasha Dekh': It’s a riot!

Published Apr 19, 2014, 2:56 am IST
Updated Apr 7, 2019, 6:56 pm IST
Cast: Satish Kaushik, Vinay Jain, Tanvi Azmi, Sharad Ponkshe, Dhiresh Joshi, Satish Alekar, Apoorva Arora, Alok Rajwade
Direction: Feroz Abbas Khan
Rating: ***1/2
Oh, what a delight it is to walk into a cinema hall with little expectation and find yourself smiling and sitting up in the first scene itself. Dekh Tamasha Dekh is a clever, cocky and witty political satire that makes you wonder how the censors let it pass.
In the first couple of minutes itself DTD establishes that it's a film for adults. Not because of the uttered obscenities, but the sarcasm the film has already started spewing.
The film is set in Chanda, a village like town by the Arabian Sea. It’s a scale replica model of India, containing all its social, political and religious tranquility, turbulence and turgidity: At a local thana a massive puja has been organised and all the cops are in attendance, except the new IPS officer (Vinay Jain) who refuses to join in; young Prashant (Alok Rajwade) is photographing his sweetheart, Shabbo (Apoorva Arora), at his new photo studio when Badshah Bhai comes crashing in, talking of our girls and yours; there's an agitation on the streets to demand a ban on a book by a history professor (Satish Alekar) even as their leader (Sharad Ponkshe) is trying to explain to the professor that feelings are above facts, and that history must be made palatable before it is served. The professor quietly switches off his hearing aid.
That’s a lot of religion within the square kilometres of one town, but it’s all woven together with humour and presented as routine. 
The next absurdity we visit is Muththa Seth (Satish Kaushik), who is talking to the editor of his newspaper, Janpath, while a mudpack is being rubbed on him in a large bathtub in his verandah. Seth is not happy. The paper is too serious. So he’s got a marketing guy to change that and increase circulation. The editor (Dhiresh Joshi) is sticking to his guns for now.
Muththa Seth is a local biggie and his huge cut-out smiles in the town’s main chauraha, to mark his 60th birthday. The cut-out’s disproportionately large head, which moves left, right and centre, falls, crushing and killing Hamid, a tongawalla, just as he has waddled out of a sharaab ki dukaan.
The burial ceremony is disrupted and Hamid's body is pulled out. Hindus are claiming that Hamid was actually Kishan, a Hindu, and must be burnt. Muslims say Hamid, husband of Fatima (Tanvi Azmi) and father of Sahabbo, was a devout Muslim and must be buried. The body is confiscated by the police and a court case begins.
The book-burning agitators shift their focus to Hamid, and Muslims start gathering supporters. Both sides argue, fight, and each skirmish, confrontation ends with the Muslims being told to go to Pakistan. 
The action shifts to the court where there are arguments about a birth certificate, driving licence, circumcision and a supari. This scene is spectacular. It's so comical, so sharp and pithy a comment on the absurdity of our life, laws, procedures and justice system that Lady Justice, had she been standing in the courtroom, would have fallen off her perch laughing.
Scenes like this one -- about our absurdity acutely observed and piercingly articulated -- are all over the film. And the film doesn't spare anyone, anything. The intellectuals’ silence is as criminal as the harangue of those who issue fatwas to wear burqa.
DTD, directed by theatre director Feroz Abbas Khan, and written by Shafaat Khan, is structured like a play. We land in the middle of scenes where actors, through dialogue, expression and action, introduce themselves, unravel a bit of the past, the present and send the story forward. The film's production has a small-scale feel to it, and its scenes, jokes are not sharpened to crackle. That's part of the film's appeal. They are allowed to play out like our routine, regular, everyday stupidity.
DTD, begins and ends with a stupid joke that doesn't go anywhere. It just provides bracket smilies to contain a film that is funny, dark and has bite. So we know that when the guard at the morgue, where Hamid's body has been kept, goes mad and starts undressing, even as the hapless nurse, her eyes covered, begs the cops to come and take him away, it’s time for the shav yatra.
There’s something occupying us a lot these days – riots. How do they happen? Are they spontaneous? Are they engineered? Do the same people who were living in harmony one day, start killing each other on another day?
Dekh Tamasha Dekh is a vivisection of a communal riot which, while making us laugh makes searing comments on our secular credentials and politics. It doesn’t go into the specifics of who did what and why, because those details are irrelevant. What it spotlights is a system that panders to stupidity which always spreads like an epidemic. It indicts the system, i.e. police, that is so scared of religion and religion-wallas, is so desperate to seem neutral that it would rather watch people kill each other than step in and put a stop to this nonsense. The film tells us that snuffing out a riot is possible at every moment of the life of a riot. You just have to cut off phone lines first. 


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