Film: The Last Lear
Banner: Planman Motion Pictures
Producer: Arindam Chaudhuri
Director: Rituparno Ghosh
Cast :Amitabh Bachchan, Preity Zinta, Arjun Rampal, Shefali Chhaya, Divya Dutta, Jishu Sengupta, Prosenjit
Cinema is an interesting medium not for its nubile status in the arts canon but because of the seemingly myriad possibilities it affords to be moulded to one’s own end. Expression, entertainment, education, engagement, the medium lives upto every reason and opens up more. Rituporno Ghosh’s The Last Lear is a typical example.
The Last Lear, a film inspired by Utpal Dutt’s play ‘Aajker Shahjahan’ stands at crossroads between all such ends that cinema is a means to. A strikingly non-intellectual film that is evocative within reason The Last Lear nevertheless strikes a balance between the involvement of the heart, mind and the soul.
The story of an aged and retired actor Harish alias Harry woven with the story of three women begins and ends at the threshold of Harry’s consuming passion for Shakespeare. The narrative plays with the past and present juggling both in order to tell the story of Harry with the fanfare and pathos a Shakespearean legend (in this case, of course Harry) would deserve. The story swerves through various subtexts of the passion for acting, an actor’s journey, the onslaught of cinema on theatre, the status of a woman in a relationship, kinship of women etc, professional ethics and some amount of human values. It attempts to question all of them with a somewhat tepid alacrity that just communicates more than it stirs.
The narrative pattern, hugely helped by sharp, effortless editing, makes the past and present collide quite seamlessly. It does not confuse and manages to keep the two worlds separate even while they run parallel. The film is helped immensely by the strong technique it employs. The colour palette is pale for the most part, moody at times and muted. The lighting not strong even in strong sequences or outdoors stays with the mood of the film which is subtle even when roaring with passion for Harry’s over-weaning love for his bard.
The film has sensitive portrayal of universal relationship issues and a controlled execution of mystifying and sedate characters. But despite this stronghold of cinematic language a distinct note of reality, earthiness and genuine-ness is missing. It operates in a vacuum of its own creation and hence limits its scale of reaching out to the audience. That is why the most moving scenes remain moving on a conceptual level leaving the viewer stone-cold.
But unlike its depth the breadth of the film is not limited. The content of the film throws open a number of threads for exploration through all its characters. And most perform to the best of their ability as well. Shefali Shah, always an explosion with talent moves slithely with the changing shades of her character that of Harry’s much-younger live-in companion absolutely devoted to him. As the film progresses Shefali’s character becomes warmer more human and it is a wonder to see her melt into the state of a vulnerable, pained woman from the in-control one we saw in the beginning of the film.
The character graph of Preity Zinta though does not follow any such graph although her performance does as much justice as to the limit of the role required. Divya Dutta, strikes a many false notes but only due to her assumed accent and not her performance. Arjun Rampal, as the maverick director who matches the eccentricity of Harry is in control and delivers a strong performance even while playing it wooden.
To call the film Big B’s vehicle, as many have called it, is not doing enough justice to the film in its entirety. The resonating voice, so like Prospero summoning the thunder and lightning to strike at his will and the perfect control he has over his body language mutely transform him from an ego-centric actor to a vulnerable old man for whose last chance at doing what he does best is being taken away from him. If he is eccentric he is endearing too and the Big B plays Harry much lucidly than he does Hamlet, Macbeth or Lear.
The film despite a great pool of talent lacks a marked sensibility but perhaps the universality of passion for one’s chosen profession is supposed to say it all. Although not warm or cold, the film lies in the median as it does with so many other things.