Film Preview: The Last Lear

The Last Lear

Directed by: Rituparno Ghosh

Starring: Amitabh Bachchan, Arjun Rampal, Preity Zinta, Divya Dutta

At the moment, the Bollywood box office appears to be in good health, with a number of films doing well at the moment and bringing audiences to the cinema. However, with many films still doing well and the Ramadan fasting month about to begin, there are not many releases of note coming up in September, save for Hijack and this film, The Last Lear. The Last Lear was actually made a while ago and premiered at the Toronto Film festival last year where it received standing ovations and has been hailed by some as Amitabh Bachchan’s best performance ever -not praise to be taken lightly considering the wonderful performances he has given over time.

The story, told in flashback, is the story of a veteran actor Harish Mishra (Bachchan) who is coaxed from self imposed exile from the world by Siddharth (Rampal playing a film director here) to star in a film Siddharth is making, with Shabnam (Zinta) for a co-star. Harish believes Shakespeare is greater than anything cinema has to offer but is still intrigued by the challenge of working in cinema. What follows is an exploration of what happens when the worlds of cinema and theatre collide.

Based on the play Aajker Shahjahan written by Utpal Dutta and then adapted and directed for cinema by Rituparno Ghosh, The Last Lear has impressive credentials and is certainly nowhere near run of the mill cinema. Interestingly, the film is made in English and we already know how Mr Bachchan’s distinctive voice makes any language sound amazing but it will be interesting to see how Rampal and Zinta act in this set up.

Ghosh is a talented director, with Bengali films like Choker Bali (Sand In The Eye) and Antar Mahal and the Hindi Raincoat under his belt and has proved himself a very sensitive director. In Choker Bali and Raincoat Ghosh extracted career best performances from Aishwarya Rai Bachchan (even overtaking her wonderful act in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam), and will presumably do something similar with Bipasha Basu in her first Bengali film out later this year Shob Charito Kalponik (Everyone Is Made Up).

As one would expect, Amitabh Bachchan will be one of the main (if not the main) attraction of the film – following up a solid performance in Bhootnath and the success of the Unforgettable tour, TLL should remind us of what a versatile and talented actor (in the proper sense of the word) he is. It will also be nice to Arjun Rampal in an offbeat flick too – though he was good in Don and to an extent in Om Shanti Om, many forget his best film to date – Ashok Honda’s Moksha (Salvation) which contained a mesmerising performance that Rampal has yet to match.

Also, TLL marks the start of Preity Zinta’s foray into art house cinema. With the disastrous Jhoom Barabar Jhoom behind her (it was a badly written film, it has to be said!) TLL should see her credibility restored and with Har Pal and Deepa Mehta’s Heaven On Earth to follow, the latter half of 2008 will be quite a milestone for Zinta.

This film will also hopefully attract a foreign audience (being in English should help its appeal in the West) and show Indian cinema is not all about song and dance and melodrama (although no one does it better than Bollywood!) and there are actually many interesting and different films made in India, not only in English and Hindi but in other languages too. It will also certainly draw much deserved attention to Ghosh’s previous body of work and win him an army of fans. Whatever one may know or think of Ghosh, it looks like this will be the first unmissable film for Autumn/Winter 2008!

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