Tasher Desh

wogma rating: Add to 'must watch' list (?)

quick review:

Q’s follow up to his daring, erotic first feature Gandu, is as intoxicating as it is bewildering. You’d be hard-pressed to make complete sense of the film at first go. Yet, you’re likely to either be compelled for a second (and even third) viewing, or to reject the film altogether at midpoint. This Tagore adaptation seems to have no middle ground.

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Running time: 116 minutes
Categories: Regional
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Marijuana and meth are for kids; cinema is the real deal. It doesn’t take courage, insight, expertise or inexplicable talent to create a film that makes a statement about existence, life, politics and about the deteriorating state of affairs in what we so naively call ‘real life’. All it takes is cinema itself.

What can stir up the deepest, most stagnant corners of our insipid souls than love? And what can make us reminisce about the farthest, most forgotten stories of love in our own lives than music? Qaushik Mukherjee (or Q, as he calls himself,) leaves Gandu far, far behind with his Tasher Desh, an adaptation – I call it that only, perhaps, because of my limited vocabulary – of a Rabindranath Tagore play of the same name. I must confess, my only exposure to the play prior to watching the film was reading its name in mere passing, in one of my many online excursions way back in time. Surely, though, I doubt even Tagore would ever have imagined his play brought to life in this manner.

At its best, Tasher Desh is a scathing commentary on everything that is wrong with mankind today. At its worst, it is an unfathomable orgy of images and sounds that can either intrigue you or put you off, depending on which end of the spectrum of creative freedom you stand on. You might either walk out of the film because you just don’t get it, or you might stay till the end, trying to decipher meaning and wisdom from the startling visual and aural experience that you’ve been subjected to. Either way, it’s okay – because even the fundamental differences between right and wrong are but subjective in nature.

To even briefly talk about the ‘story’ of the film would be to do thorough disservice to it; although the film’s one line premise would read much like Tagore’s play – a Prince and his friend (sidekick, conscience, alter-ego, who knows?) attempt to break free from the questions that plague them, ending up in a distant land across the sea – a land inhabited by the Card people; a race bound by rules and order. If you think this description is mysterious, wait till you watch the film.

The first thing about the film that instantly grabs you is the three distinct colour tones used in the first hour of the film – a black-and-white look that has a narrator who wants to put up a production of Tasher Desh; washed out colour showing the Prince, his friend and his mother, the Queen, who are characters from the play; and the trippy, outlandish explosion of colour which seem to show the states of mind of the characters from the play. (This third colour tone was reminiscent of the hallucinogen-induced imagery from the 2012 film Dredd – enough to spawn at least some amount of clarity amidst the befuddlement.) The appearance of these three colour tones is seemingly random; images are cut and juxtaposed with alarming alacrity. The film will either draw you in right then, or you will reject it as indulgence (an innocuous, frequently-bandied term that few realize is far more subjective than simply ‘good’ or ‘bad’.)

In the second hour, in trying to show a land with order, the film descends into absolute chaos. Even the subtitles assume a life of their own, visually as well as in meaning. And yet, within this chaos, one can see the beauty of pure, uncorrupted anarchy – of self-governance and of self-censorship. Indeed, wouldn’t the world be a far more tolerable place if every person has sense enough to control and govern his or her own behaviour?

Here, in this second hour, is when the film comes into its own. It is no-holds-barred in its approach towards the narrative and the message it gives out; and yet it refrains from being sermonizing. It asks as much as it tells, and it urges you to see for yourself the glaring, dismal truth of the land it portrays. The images and sounds are rapid and urgent; the unraveling of these images and sounds, however, is leisurely. After all, it is ultimately a film – a world-view, a state of mind.

The music of Tasher Desh is another tale of trip altogether. The songs are supposedly from Tagore’s play itself, but the eclectic, fusion rendition of the songs, combined with lyrics that are all Tagore, truly propel the narrative; the music is easily the soul of the film.

To put it mildly, Tasher Desh is daring for an Indian film. I don’t know about the rest of the world, but I sure won’t judge you for not liking it. In fact, I would go so far as to request you to stay away from Tasher Desh; because it is likely the kind of high you won’t be able to handle.

This review is by guest reviewer Pradeep Menon. Pradeep is a filmmaker and a dreamer. He loves books, rain, winters, tea and his parents. Cinema, however, is the only truth he believes in. He breathes and bleeds film, mostly in hues of saffron, white, green and blue. You can watch his short films at www.youtube.com/cyberpradeep.

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This page has additional observations, other than the ones noted in the main review.

Parental Guidance:

  • Violence: Substance abuse
  • Language: Expletives are used but blanked in subtitles
  • Nudity & Sexual content: Sexuality, intimacy and homoeroticism
  • Concept: Adaptation of a Tagore play about a mythical ‘Land of the Cards’.
  • General Look and Feel: Visceral and stark, continuously changing colour tones

Detailed Ratings (out of 5):

Lead Actors:
Character Artists:
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Tasher Desh - Cast, crew, links

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Running time:
116 minutes

Comments (5)

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Pradeep - hi, again! :)

Why does this trailer remind me of Roman Coppola's cQ - a movie about a young art filmmaker in Sixties Rome making a crappy spy/SF movie...?

@TimELiebe - Hello, Tim! Trust all is well. :-)

I unfortunately haven't watched CQ yet, but your description of it has me intrigued.

As far as Tasher Desh is concerned, the film is nothing like CQ. Review will be out soon, so please do read it! :-)

Hmmm, Pradeep - I'm not sure this is the kind of movie most of my Bollywood movie watching group would enjoy. For that matter, I'm not sure it's a film I would enjoy - it really does sound a lot like the kind of cinema about Youth Versus Corrupt Order and Authority that French, Italian and American filmmakers were making in the late 1950s and 1960s, using deliberately alienating techniques to make a point.

On the other hand, it's clearly a very unusual film to be produced in India, so now I feel like I should at least give it a try. I just won't be putting this in the queue for my friends to watch with me.

@TimELiebe: Well, yes. The film is unusual, and if you like experimenting with the kind of cinema you watch, then you could give this a try.

Also, I must say I'm extremely intrigued by this 'Bollywood movie watching group' you keep referring to. I'd love to hear more about it! So, what is the general consensus on the favourite Hindi movie of the group?

(On another note, I'm one of those who finds the term 'Bollywood' extremely uncomfortable to use. You'll never hear me ever type or say that word on my own. I used it here because you use it to refer to your group.)

@Pradeep - first, let me apologize if my using the term "Bollywood" makes you uncomfortable. It's a Western term for Indian Entertainment movies, which are gaining popularity in the West in the same way Japanese Animation or Chinese Action movies did before. Is there a term you would prefer I use - like Masala, maybe, which some more scholarly Western critics of Indian popular movies often use...?

The Group is just about a half-dozen or more of us who get together on Sundays usually to watch Indian Entertainment movies. It started out with my wife Tammy, and our friends Bruce and Kathy ran out of episodes of a dance competition show here called SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE, which they all love.

Bruce had heard that Indian movies had some great musical numbers in them - so they decided to rent a couple and start watching them on Sunday nights. The rest of us weren't so sure at first - but we all really liked how Indian entertainment movies combine comedy, tragedy, action, romance and truly catchy songs with elaborate dance numbers, all very well done and colorful. Our first choices were kind of stupid even by entertainment standards - our first Indian movie, and the one that convinced us to keep watching, was KAMBAKKHT ISHQ! Which just goes to show you that even a dumb Akshay Kumar-Kareena Kapoor vehicle can seem wondrous to a new audience...

We've been watching Indian Movies for a few years now - still mostly light entertainment, but we've tried some of the more highly-regarded films as well, like RANG DE BASANTI (which everybody but my younger brother, who's politically very conservative, liked!), EKLAYVA, THE ROYAL GUARD (which we all loved, even if it's more like something Kurosawa would do), and HARISHCHANDRACHI FACTORY (very sweet, very rose-colored looked at the start of the Indian Film Industry).

Does that help any, Pradeep?

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