Sunday, September 14, 2008
'the last lear'
shot in 40 days flat on a relatively low budget(bigB charged only 10% of his normal rate),the arindam chaudhuri production was a treat to watch.the movie was premiered at toronto last year and was released last friday at mumbai(wonder why such a long time-gap), after scaring the guts out of the producer and bigB. jaya bhaduri's off- the- cuff remark that for her hindi came first and then only marathi did not go well with mumbai parochialists and politicians. they all jumped into the fray criticising jaya bhaduri and allowed hooligans to go on a rampage tearing billboards of 'the last lear' and burning effigies of jaya bacchan and even threatened to stop the premiere of 'the last lear'. bigB apologised on behalf of his better half and truce was called and peace was soon established. the young nephew of the shiva sena supremo bal thackeray,raj thackeray, who led the assault yet again on behalf of the marathi manoos won yet another battle. and film star muzaffar raked up another controversy saying that he was upset that his trademark hairstyle was copied by bigB in the movie without his permission! not only that, his looks and mannerisms were copied by rituporno ghosh for the character of harish mishra. these distractions soon blew away and the film was being shown to packed houses over the weekend.
the movie begins on a divali night with fireworks and crackers bursting.an auspicious start.but then the protogonist(harish mishra alias harry) is in a state of coma. veteran thespian(amitabh bacchan) who plays the role of harry seriously injured his spinal cord when he did a stunt.harry(bigB) is a 75 yearold retired stage actor.one who breathes,drinks and eats william shakespeare.his ambition was to act as king lear in the play which was to be staged for which he did a lot of painstaking research and went under king lear's skin.just before the play was to be held,someone from the stage crew had commented about his live-in companion (vandana) which upset him so much that he gave up theatre altogether in a huff. living in an old and ancestral north kolkatra mansion with closed circuit tv in his room, he lives in a time warp.he is a personification of vanity and arrogance. sporting silver hair,the diehard theatre person ridicules movies and says he would never act in a film.you can show only the face or the hands and if you want to show the whole body of the person you have to take a shot from a distance,he tells siddharth(arjun ramphal) who wants to make a film titled "the mask" with harry in the main role.siddharth's younger brother,a journalist interviews harry before he decides to act in the movie.while discussing shakespeare,harry is shocked that the youngster referred to the main character in "midsummer night's dream" as oberoi instead of oberon.and he never forgets the gaffe.forced out of retirement,the ageing and decadent actor decides to make a movie debut albeit with some reluctance.siddharth is overjoyed that he has found the right actor for his film.
shefali shah as vandana,preity zinta as harry's co-star shabnam,divya dutta as the nurse ivy,arjun ramphal as the film director siddharth-all perform their roles to near perfection. credit goes to director rituparno ghosh for extracting the best out of each actor.there are some very funny scenes like when both harry and siddharth see on the cctv at harry's home,the activity in front of the old mansion. the movement of people doing different things at different times. siddharth feels that this itself can become a story for a movie. every now and then there is a passerby who relieves himself against the compound wall of the mansion. the scene where harry implores siddharth to allow him to do the stunt of falling from the cliff much against siddharth's will is very touching. after all has he not paid a hefty sum to hire akbar, a stuntman.he,however, relents when harry goes down on his knees and begs of him and tells him that after all he is like siddharth's father.should he not accede to his wishes? a fatal mistake by siddharth. because harry breaks his back doing the stunt.
is there any message that arindam chaudhuri wants to convey? what is shakespeare's lear doing anyway? actually there is no connection between king lear and the last lear excepting probably the common factor of age and arrogance in the characters of king lear and harry.theatre acting is very different from acting in a film,the director seems to say and the harassment of young maidens by their suspicious boyfriends does not appear to be very uncommon.ivy and shabnam share this fate in the hands of their respective boyfriends. about which we come to know when vandana,shabnam and ivy share their dinner on the night of the premiere sitting in the drawing hall of harry's home. harry is lying in a serious condition in an adjacent room after the accident. frequent flashbacks unfold the story till the climax when harry mutters some shakepeare dialogues.how relationships change! the selfish director,siddarth, who never turned up to see his main hero after the tragic fall in stark contrast to the sympathetic co-star shabnam who skips the premiere to be with harry also shows different people exhibiting different feelings and emotions.the old are difficult people to handle;they are irritable,cranky and vulnerable. and some men take advantage of their age and susceptibility. women more often are at the receiving end and do not get a fair deal.relationships are complex and not easily understood and explained.
in sum,a remarkable movie to watch.bigB's performance when he quotes shakespeare with great panache and elan was for me something unforgettable. a well-knit team of actors who raise the bar with their outstanding contributions and make the film truly a delight to watch.
the jury is still out whether the film will be a commercial success. for me that is besides the point. it is a job well done.