Imtiaz Ali’s Tamasha has emerged from that corner of the college canteen where dreamy-eyed boys strum guitars and spout poetry in the hope that the inevitable journey into adulthood will be delayed just a little longer. Ali has been occupying this spot ever since he made his debut, Socha Na Tha, in 2005. His latest saga of an emotionally stunted type who uses a lover as a crutch is narrated with the same adolescent yearning that can be found in many of his films. Complex emotions are expressed in simplistic terms, the romance is chaste to the point that a kiss seems radical. True love strikes only once, and always between beautiful and impeccably turned-out people in photogenic locations. Everything is verbalised.

It worked beautifully in Jab We Met, Ali’s most perfectly realised movie, but the leads of Tamasha appear a bit too old to be running around like virginal teenagers. Ved (Ranbir Kapoor) meets Tara (Deepika Padukone) in sun-soaked Corsica, the French island that inspired the Asterix comic about Boneywasawarriorwayayix and his family feuds. Tara has come to Corsica expressly because she is a fan of the comic (she can be seen holding a copy, in case you miss the reference the first time) and when she runs into the only other Indian on the island, sparks fly. The well-shod Bohemians like to play act like their favourite movie characters, and they explore the island together and share a room. They don’t tell each other their names. Since this is hardly Last Tango in Corsica, their mutual passion is strictly family-friendly.

Four years later, Tara is handling her tea empire (holidays in Corsica don’t come cheap) and runs into Ved again in Delhi. What happens in Corsica has stayed there: Ved is a buttoned-up and emotionally withdrawn corporate drone. Yet, Tara, who doesn’t seem to have dated a single man since she returned from Corsica, begins a relationship with Ved that ends badly. Tamasha finally begins.

A never-ending journey

Like he did in his last movie Highway, Ali tries to expand the frontiers of the clichéd trope about life being a journey into the inner self with an ode to the joys of acting out. Ved has been forced into the drudgery of engineering and corporate sales, but his heart beats for the stage. Ali gets arty with the editing and shooting styles, and the choppy and abrupt cuts appear to be attempts to introduce edginess into a routine coming-of-age drama, but they only confuse the narrative and severely bloat the running time.

At 151 minutes (the filmmakers seem to have used every single shot canned), only a handful of scenes stand out. Kapoor and Padukone are perfectly paired, and Ali brings out their chemistry in many tender moments. The restaurant sequence in which Tara manages to rattle some of Ved’s reserve especially has the ring of honesty and truth.

The moment is aptly followed by a lullaby-like song (the music is by AR Rahman, the sharp lyrics by Irshad Kamil). Tamasha doesn’t have enough depth or profundity to say anything that Ali hasn’t said before. For all the movie’s affectations of sophistication and worldliness, it gets its depictions of non-Indians hopelessly wrong. All of Corsica respectfully bows to the whims of Ved and Tara, and doesn’t seem to mind when they put on stereotypical Continental accents. By the time Tara has started making fun of the way the Japanese speak English, it’s clear that for all its tributes to the magic of theatre, the free-wheeling rhythms of the road movie, and the emotional acuity found in arthouse cinema, Tamasha is a good old Bollywood flick.