Khalid Mohamed is no Ingmar Bergman, and thank god for that. For if Mr. Mohamed had decided to adapt Bergmanâ€™s style of storytelling along with his screenplay of "Autumn Sonata," we would have been watching paint dry. Fortunately for us, Mr. Mohamedâ€™s rendition of this dysfunctional, mother and daughter sonata is far more accessible, colorful, and humorous than its inspiration.
"Tehzeeb" is also a very inconsistent film. On one hand, the directorâ€™s fingers slide smoothly over the keys, rendering a near flawless tune. On the other hand, he strikes the most dissonant of chords, especially with his musical numbers, resulting in ludicrously funny results on screen. But as Hindi movie viewers, we all have to be a little forgiving here and there, so letâ€™s let Mr. Mohamed off the hook this time. We are simply going to pretend that we never saw lame production design such as a bathtub in the middle of a beach, or imitations of wild apes being passed off as choreography, collectively ruining A.R. Rahmanâ€™s beautiful "Meherbaan" number, and not to mention Dia Mirzaâ€™s "trance dance."
That said, letâ€™s see why "Tehzeeb" works. Its backbone is performance. Rukhsana Jamal, a singer of legendary repute (played to perfection by Shabana Azmi), inspired by a spur of the moment, decides to visit her daughter after several years. She is accused by her daughter, Tehzeeb (a ferocious Urmila Matondkar) of neglecting her and Naazneen, her mentally challenged younger sister (an earnest effort from Dia Mirza). Mommy dearest is of course her domineering and didactic self, which in turn sets off the circuits in Tehzeeb, who is nothing short of a dormant time bomb. In a consistent pattern of fault-finding, guilt-tripping, and defense, Shabana Azmi and Urmila Matondkar play off each otherâ€™s emotions in a manner that swings from being everything from humorous, emotional, and downright antagonistic. Tehzeebâ€™s husband Salim (played by the immensely talented Arjun Rampal), is constant cause for Rukhsanaâ€™s jealousy, which in turn translates into her overall cynicism towards her daughterâ€™s household.
"Tehzeeb" is a story about transformation. It focuses on how Rukhsana, Tehzeeb, Salim, and Nazu come to terms with each other. Khalid Mohamed makes this viewing a worthwhile experience because of the way he plays with humor in his writing. Barring the lunacy of the mechanical usage of the songs within the script, "Tehzeeb" is narrated in a style very similar to Pedro Almodovarâ€™s earlier films; a scene that may have nothing to do with the script distracts you with the importance paid to it. Another scene that is being driven by comedy suddenly shifts gears into seriousness at the hint of a single word. This quality of the writing clearly flows through Urmila Matondkarâ€™s spontaneity, and her newly acquired ability to juxtapose divergent emotions.
While he juxtaposes emotions brilliantly, Khalid Mohamed makes that dreaded mistake of juxtaposing tones. The inconsistency in the filmâ€™s narrative voice could have the tendency to throw the viewer off. In an effort to pull off something Almodovarian, the director has the tendency to go overboard. There is also a lack of cohesive consistency in the script, which is exemplified in the Arjun Rampal-Diana Hayden subplot that mechanically does nothing to progress the narrative. On a side note, Diana Hayden should be banned from any kind of acting that requires her to speak.
Though not original in its content or presentation, "Tehzeeb" will pleasantly surprise you by its wit and occasional amateurism. At times, it may shock you with the directorâ€™s inability to extract top quality goods from a crew (A.R. Rahman, Santosh Sivan, Sreekar Prasad) that is every filmmakerâ€™s dream. Then, it may also surprise you with the ease and playfulness with which Mr. Mohamed coaxes supreme performances from his cast. "Tehzeeb" is a pot of surprises that is perhaps comparable to a sonata being played on an instrument that is out of tune, but still somehow ends up sounding resonant.