Sarvesh Mewara’s Tejas is a woefully bad film that has the confidence to centre on a rescue mission when in reality it needs one itself.
YOU know a film has broken you when you laugh at a pivotal moment and find that you are not the only one doing it. You know a film has gone too far when a quiet person, who hitherto was an impassive member of the audience, sighs loud enough to be heard. You know a film puts the ‘prop’ in propaganda when the news channel it features is called ‘T**es Now N****arat’, the fictional journalist it includes is a real-life reporter known for being the mouthpiece of the current dispensation, and the crisis at hand is a bomb scare at…a Ram mandir. You know the joke writes itself when a film loses all objectivity and treats its lead as both the pilot of a fighter plane and the fighter plane itself. But then the actor is Kangana Ranaut and this is her film.
In the last couple of years, films starring Ranaut have faced one struggle: to give precedence to the narrative or the lead. In the broader picture, it is not a rare phenomenon. For years, Hindi films starring male superstars have been committed to being the vanity vehicles of its protagonists. But in her case such infiltration did disservice to her talent and made her work lesser. Unlike most male actors, she did not need a lesser script to look better. She needed one to match her talent. The failure of such an alignment brought both her and the outings she starred in a notch lower. Sarvesh Mewara’s Tejas — a woefully bad film that has the confidence to centre on a rescue mission when in reality it needed one itself — does one thing right: it dispels this confusion. Ranaut has never looked this incapable and a script never tried this hard to not try.
If it is still unclear, I’d reiterate the basics. Tejas is a propaganda film which plays right into the Right-wing politics of the current regime in India. The usual symptoms are all there: there is one token Muslim character who is depicted as a patriot. She is the good Muslim, one who is played both for laughs and to make a larger point about communal harmony. It is she who mouths lines like ‘We are living in a new India which will not take terrorist pressure lightly’. Then there is ample demonisation of Pakistan. In one scene, someone says, “It is the army that takes decisions in the country and not the government”. All Hindus are portrayed as nice and patient while the Muslims are either soldiers or downright terrorists. A subplot of the 2011 Mumbai attacks is introduced to fan the polarising intent of the film. Ranaut’s character is designed as an admixture of nation and nationalism, which is to say that there is nothing she cannot do.
To be fair, none of this is unexpected. The actor’s agreement with the government has been open and well documented in the press. But the thing about Tejas is that it is such a badly made film that its offences do not register. It is so toothless that its intent translates in the tone of mockery as if it is laughing at itself. Take for instance the way it introduces the Supreme Court judgement on Ram Mandir. The film goes nowhere in mentioning its legacy of dispute, the much debated Ram Janmabhoomi- Babri Masjid case. Instead, it paints a facile picture of communal peace and has a reporter say things like, “before the judgement both Hindus and Muslims seem to be in a great mood”. It is morbid how far Tejas is from reality and it is morbidly funny what terrible VFX it has, which makes the site look like an optical (dis)illusion.
Then there is a problem of transition. No two scenes appear to have a sense of coherence. Thus, we see Ranaut’s character Tejas being wooed by a musician and in the next moment he turns up at her workspace. There was no conversation about her profession but we are to assume he knows. There are more assumptions the film expects us to make. Like, Tejas, the character and the combat aircraft, are a match made in heaven. There is little to no context to her passion and profession. Then again, asking these questions might be too taxing for a film so inattentive that a character refers to another by the wrong name. I know this because the latter dons a name badge. It is all happening and unhappening in Tejas.
Given the ready influx of jingoistic films, it feels tiring to make similar arguments every week, to get angry at the manipulation freely exercised by certain makers and actors for their own personal agenda. In between comes a film like Tejas that is so bad that it makes you laugh in relief. It suddenly ceases to matter that Hindi films might be in crisis because what we have here is anything but a film.