Tevar: A predictable film that gleefully subverts the formula

There’s a scene in Tevar that brought tears to my eyes. Pintoo (Arjun Kapoor), a young lad from Agra, who’s usually bumping into local goons and leaving them disfigured, has not returned home since morning. His father (Raj Babbar) corners him in the living room quite late in the night, and asks him where he was during the day. Pintoo stutters, trying his best to cobble together an excuse. His father doesn’t buy his answers. But he’s not angry, just a little disappointed. And then he simply goes, “Is umra me jab beta ghar se bina bataye chale jaata hai, toh maa-baap ki haalat kharaab ho jaati hai.” For someone who doesn’t stay with his parents, and gets to meet his old man not more than a few times a year, I couldn’t remain indifferent to this scene. An “objective” viewer may not call this scene great. But objectivity be damned, who knows what a Great Scene is? A scene that elicits a response — any response — is good enough.

Tevar has quite a few scenes that skilfully explore the inner world of its characters. Quite early in the film, Radhika, the female lead (Sonkashi Sinha), is introduced via this scene: she’s having dinner at her place; the table seats her elder brother and parents. They are talking about sending Radhika to the U.S., where she should get hitched to a “firang“; she quietly protests. She wants to become a lecturer at a local college in Mathura. And while she’s talking, she carefully culls out peas from the bowl, which contains paneer aplenty. The camera, then, lingers over the plate that has peas neatly stacked against each other. There are 100 hackneyed ways to show — or even tell — that your character really believes in her choices; Amit Ravindernath Sharma, Tevar‘s director, finds one that truly hits home.

Tevar poster

Tevar is a strange film. I wasn’t quite looking forward to it, expecting it to be yet another movie that would dole out rote lessons on masculinity. But in many scenes, I was rendered gobsmacked by its heartfelt gaze. Consider another scene: Pintoo introduces Radhika to his gang of friends. Among them is a particularly corpulent fellow who isn’t introduced by his name, but by a moniker he dislikes, especially because there’s a girl in front of him, and he wants a more dignified introduction. Pintoo tells him that he’s going to reveal another secret of his, and switches off the lights, leaving just a spotlight on. The guy continues objecting helplessly. But, then, he can’t help breaking into an elaborate dance. A lesser film would have caricaturised the guy, milking his body weight for crass laughs. But this film doesn’t; we just watch this guy doing his thing with abandon and, after a while, everyone joins him for a song.

Tevar does these small things so well. The machismo in the film, for the most part, rings with a playful tone. And that tone is vital because Tevar is, ultimately, a silly film set in a silly world. Sharma is aware of these nuances — Pintoo looks at the camera and sings, “Main toh Superman”; before beating a ruffian to pulp, he pauses for effect, and his friend says, “Oye Pintoo ab maardialogue”; when Ghanshyam (Manoj Bajpayee), the villain, is forced to strip to his boxers by Pintoo, he doesn’t wear pants in the subsequent scenes till he’s avenged his loss. Even the romance here is anything but formulaic; Radhika doesn’t fall for Pintoo for the first two-thirds of the film, and when she does, that feeling is underlined with beautiful hesitation.

Which is why Tevar‘s eventual failure is confounding. Here’s a director who had almost managed to pull that rare coup: he took stock characters, an overly familiar world, a banal plot (a love triangle), and skilfully played with them to an extent that made you want to applaud. But Tevar ruins its promise in the last half hour by introducing a ludicrous plot point, and suddenly turning mirthless. And that’s not merely a quibble; this detour severely compromised the overall film. If you, however, respond to moments in movies as opposed to their whole, Tevar won’t be a major disappointment.

An edited version of this review was published at The Sunday Guardian

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