Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Last Lear ¬watch it

Shakespeare meets Hindi cinema in Rituparno Ghosh's The Last Lear, an extremely moving tale of about actors, human beings and relationships. The film is not about Shakespeare, but the Bard is never absent from the scene. He lives through the character of Harry or Harish Mishra, a retired stage actor, played to perfection by Amitabh Bachchan. The film tells the tale of two obsessed human beings, one with cinema and the other with acting. When the two come together, the result is something quite unforeseen. Like all of Rituparno's works, this movie too is layered deep with subtexts which hover around the main plot. Like all of his cinema, this movie too is rich in imagery and the manner in which each scene is textured with nuances and meanings. It is an extremely subjective experience watching Rituparno's films, but one thing is for sure, one is never left unmoved by the human drama that is played out in them.
The film is about a retired stage actor, talented and whimsical, one who is the protégé of a dying art form, Shakespearean drama, and the other a prodigy of the new breed of cinema. Both are talented, obsessed and quite ruthless where their art is concerned. Arjun Rampal plays Siddharth, the director and does a great job of holding his own against the Big B at his towering best. When these two colossal talents meet, art emerges but at the cost of Hari's life. Woven around this is the story of Shabnam, an actress (Preity Zinta), Nandana, Hari's mistress (Shefali Shah) and the nurse (Divya Dutta). The film begins in flashback as Siddharth's film is being premiered while Hari, the main protagonist of the film lies paralysed in bed. Shabham decides to go to meet Hari instead of attending the premiere and meets an initially hostile and fiery Nandana. The two women bond gradually as they sit through the night and talk about Hari, and of their lives. Hari's life and the film shoot is unfolds through the eyes of three people, Hari's mistress, his co-star and a young journalist, who is writing a book on the film's making. Filtered through these three individuals emerges the vibrant, at times absurd and naive, but always wedded to his art, character of Hari. His insistence on enacting his death scene for the film, which ironically proves to be his last turn as an actor, as he is injured in the scene and is paralysed, perhaps for ever. Hari is obsessed about enacting his death scene, it's his dedication to his art which spurs him on to do that fatal scene. Siddharth accepts after making him sign a bond which releases the film maker and his crew from any responsibility in case Hari is injured during the shoot. His ruthless obsession for getting that perfect shot ensures that Hari never walks again. It's a drama in which both individuals are driven by their obsessive dedication to their art, but while there is something pure and innocent about the actor's pursuit of his craft, the director's compulsions reek of ruthlessness. There is no regret for Siddharth but the others associated with the film are left shaken by the accident.
Built into this drama is the story of Shabnam, involved in an emotionally abusive relationship, which finds a parallel in the story of the nurse as well. Nandana lives in her silent, big house, with no one to take out her frustrations on but the hapless nurse. Rituparno builds a compelling drama around the story of Hari, the maverick, Shabnam, Siddharth and Nandana. The film is shot beautifully, with every shot having an organic connection to the whole. The movie unfolds with just the right amount of pace and rhythm. The background score is a subtle player, enhancing the emotional quality of the scenes. The story may not be very strong but what is strong is the film's screenplay and the manner in which the entire drama unfolds. The casting is apt and perfect, be it the Big B, Arjun Rampal, Shefali Shah, Preity Zinta or Divya Dutta. Each of these actors manage to get into the skin of their character and deliver the goods. It's truly an ensemble performance.
Amitabh Bachchan is terrific as Hari. His towering personality and booming voice are just apt for the role of the ageing stage actor. The manner in which he delivers soliloquies from Shakepeare's plays is just terrific, be it Prospero from The Tempest or Lear from King Lear, it is truly like watching a dying craft from one of our most accomplished actors around. Bachchan shares an excellent screen chemistry with Preity and Arjun Rampal, who manages to hold is own against him. Arjun puts in a very confident performance as Siddharth. First there was Om Shanti Om, then Rock On and now The Last Lear. Arjun Rampal is definitely emerging as an actor to watch out for.
But the show stealers are definitely the women, with Shefali Shah leading the brigade. Her body language, her modulation and her expressions are a treat to watch as she hooks the audience into her life with her powerhouse performance. Divya Dutt does not have much to say, but the manner in which she delivers is also riveting. Preity plays a very unglamorous character, perhaps for the first time, and does a very good job of it too. The beauty of the film is the manner in which it has been written, with each character carefully delineated. The dialogues are perfect, mostly in English, with a smattering of Bengali. In all, this is very moving and poignant drama. Finally, hats off to Rituparno for his masterly direction. The Last Lear bears his signature all the way.
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