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Zindagi Tamasha (Review): We’re All in a Circus All the Time

No matter how you slice it, people are complex. Someone can be incredibly generous and kind to strangers and be a tyrant to their family. Someone can be a hopeless romantic, and yet unbearably vexing when it comes to practical matters.

It’s this dichotomy which makes people interesting, flawed, and a lot of the time, hypocritical. When Shakespeare said, “All the World’s a Stage and All the Men and Women Merely Players”, he didn’t box people into single roles they couldn’t deviate from.

All this to say, ‘Zindagi Tamasha’ is about a man who plays one role in front of the world, and one day, when he deviates from it, the world burns him down for it.

What’s ‘Zindagi Tamasha’ About?

It’s about a well-respected Naat-Khwan, named Rahat Khwaja, in Old Lahore who, in a private moment of abandon, dances to a Pakistani song from his childhood. The song is called “Zindagi Tamasha Banay”. He is recorded in that moment and the video is uploaded to Facebook.

Slowly, his world begins to unwind and the society that loved and respected him, begins to burn him to the ground. His wife, already ill and bedridden, begins to worry constantly, and his daughter begins to shun him due to the shame and ridicule he’s bringing to the family.

‘Zindagi Tamasha’ Shows Us How We’re All Hypocrites

Throughout the film, the characters of ‘Zindagi Tamasha’ are shown to ridicule and belittle trans and intersex people for their choice of profession, their “vulgar” activities, and perhaps their existence.

Rahat Khwaja, though sympathetic to their plight in one instance, badmouths them for gatecrashing a wedding. This is a normal occurrence in Punjabi weddings, and trans/intersex people are often paid to leave in such situations. In a country where hiring them for any profession is a rarity, this is how they make their living.

Then, after Rahat Khwaja is chastised by society for simply dancing to an old tune from his childhood, he begins to find comfort only in the world that the song talks about. The society that once respected him may all be hypocrites, but he was just unmasked. And they can’t even pretend to understand him, otherwise they would all be unmasked.

Rahat Khwaja himself is approached by others in his life who understand him, and try to take him to places where he would feel more comfortable, but he doesn’t want that either. He’s a complex human being and even though he loves his childhood memories, he doesn’t want to debase himself with “vulgarities”.

‘Zindagi Tamasha’ Is About How Society Slowly Kills Our Individualism

Like ‘Kamli’, ‘Zindagi Tamasha’ is about how society bounds us in boxes. Though it’s much less obvious for men than for women, but they’re boxed into societal roles nonetheless. Expressions of joy and abandon are more prized among women, and even then only in private gatherings and specific places; not out in public. For men, society only tolerates what is much more subtle and restrained. Rahat Khwaja’s obsession with dancing is traced back to his childhood when his father would chastise and brutally beat him if he was found committing the sinful act. Even something as innocent as the dance of a child is beaten out of him.

The largest single minority in the world is the individual, and people are always trying to get it to conform to the collective. We have to choose between what makes us different and what our responsibilities are to others that we love, cherish, and sometimes only tolerate, just to survive.

‘Zindagi Tamasha’ is one of the growing number of films which have come out about this subject. Hopefully it won’t be the last.

While ‘Zindagi Tamasha’ doesn’t have the intensity or the creativity of Kamli, that was a film of a different genre. Sarmad Khoosat probably polished a lot of his skill on Zindagi Tamasha before he helmed Kamli, and that has made all the difference.

The Performances In ‘Zindagi Tamasha’

The keyword is subdued. There are no violent outbursts or melodramatic monologues here. ‘Zindagi Tamasha’ is as close to real life as it gets when it comes to performances.

Arif Hasan who plays the protagonist Naat Khwan is a virtual unknown in the Pakistani film scene, but he pulls off his role with a lot of sincerity. His dance scene is done with complete abandon as is his overall portrayal of an ailing, tired old man.

Eman Suleman as his daughter Sadaf turns in her best performance to date. Her work in ‘Churails’, though pivotal, wasn’t exactly noteworthy. However, here, she turns in a performance which slowly transforms from glowing love for her father to disgust and disdain. And none of it is overdone.

Samiya Mumtaz also gives a great performance as the Naat Khwan’s bedridden wife.

In Conclusion

Zindagi Tamasha’s YouTube upload begins with Sarmad Khoosat’s message to the audience that he just wants people to see his work. Then, before the film begins, the 3 censor board certificates fade in. Their dates all pre-date the pandemic and its original release date by months.

There really was no reason to ban this film, or to censor it in any way. The niche interested in the film would’ve watched it then, and they will watch it now. All the censor boards did was waste time. Like they often do.

Written by Yousuf Mehmood


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