If you need a boost of motivation to kickstart your goals then taking a couple of hours off to watch T for Taj Mahal is time well spent. A triumphant tale that celebrates grass roots community initiatives, the story begins in a village just outside Agra, home of India’s main tourist attraction, the Taj Mahal. Here we meet Bansi (Subrat Dutta), a man on a mission to give local children the opportunity he never had: to get an education. Illiterate and poor, Bansi is a noble hero who despite all the odds stacked against him, fulfils his dream by opening a café where instead of paying for their meals, customers tutor the children; and before he knows it, a village school is up and running.
A heart-warming story with a positive spirit, the journey isn’t easy, but we’re shown that being true to yourself and sticking to your guns, is the best way to succeed. One of the film’s poignant moments is when the villagers offer to help make the café appeal to tourists by westernising it, Bansi reminds them that their own culture is enough; they don’t need to fit into anyone else’s expectations. It’s one of the film’s strengths and is a message that gets highlighted through it.
Watching T for Taj Mahal feels part like a fairytale and part like a biography. There's such sincerity in the characters, particularly in Subrat’s portrayal of Bansi that at times I felt as though I was watching a biographic film, not a work of fiction.
T For Taj Mahal celebrates community spirit, the coming together of people and having faith in one’s dreams. For the most part it’s enjoyable to watch, let down only by a decision made by the filmmakers to introduce a narrator, the voice of an America tourist who later makes a ‘cameo’ in the film.
For me, this was unnecessary and a compromise. As an independent piece of Indian filmmaking it would be more satisfying to watch Bansi and his friends succeed themselves, but too much emphasis is placed on this character of Janet and her role in the school’s success.
Similarly the portrayal of other foreign tourists is weak. They play to stereotypes that in 2018 are unacceptable. More creativity should have been exercised when representing them, especially when the film is intended for international festival viewers. I advise watching it with an open mind as no doubt you'll have your own opinions on this.
T for Taj Mahal is a thoughtful film that deserves a chance to create a legacy that could impact on the world. The model the filmmakers have created, educational cafés where you ‘eat and teach’ could so easily be established across the country and over the globe; after all, as the film shows: an idea has to start somewhere and you never know what it can germinate into.
T for Taj Mahal runs as part of the 9th edition of the Bagri Foundation London Indian Film Festival, that runs at 15 cinemas, across London, Birmingham and Manchester, from 21st June to 1st July, with 27 films, including features and short films, in competition. It is the largest South Asian film festival in Europe. Buy your tickets via this website, at respective cinema box offices: www.londonindianfilmfestival.co.uk