As The Last Lear begins Preity Zinta is introduced as an actress, Shabnam, who prepares to lave for the Diwali premiere of her film, The Mask. Instead of reaching the theatre she shows up at her co star's (Harish Mishra) house who is terribly ill. At Harish Mishra's home Shabnam finds the lady whom he loves, Vandana (Shefali Shah) and a nurse, Ivy (Divya Dutta). On the other hand at the premiere the director of the film, Siddharth and a young journalist (Jisshu) are present. From here the rest of the story is told in the flashback mode through the journalist, Shabnam and Vandana.
Harish Mishra is a veteran stage actor who has retired from the stage. Siddharth a young auteur director wants to work with him but Harry, as he likes to be called, is a tough nut to crack. Siddharth spends time with him and the actor finally agrees. He enacts the role of Maqbool, a circus clown. While shooting for the film, The Mask, he comes across Shabnam. Although she is a popular actress but at home she is struggling with a collapsing marriage. Suspected, abused, beaten, she is disappointed with life and herself. Harry helps her to find her voice and get rid of the pent up emotions. In fact he leaves behind an indelible mark on every member of the crew. Being passionate about acting Harry adamantly wants to do an action sequence in which he has to jump from a cliff. He meets with an accident while giving the shot and ends up with coma. The film is released, it is appreciated but nobody speaks a word about him.
However, The Last Lear is not about the woe of unrecognized talent. Rather it is about a man who is passionate about Shakespeare, so much so, that at times he seems obsessed. He knows Shakespeare like the back of his hand. He truly considers Shakespeare as a master whose authority is indisputable. The first time when Siddharth comes to meet him he enacts a scene from one of his Shakespearean plays and for the very first time the audience gets a glimpse of an actor who is beyond evaluation. In this very scene Harry expresses his condescend for the cinematic medium where an actor remains incomplete. He is of the view that cinema is all about incomplete moments; there is no spontaneity, no continuity.
The scenes were Amitabh Bachchan recites from the Shakespearean plays are simply magical. The ease with which he recites these passages from King Lear, Midsummer Night's Dream and other plays is outstanding. His character in The Last Lear, Harry, eats, sleeps and breathes Shakespeare. He cannot tolerate a word against the playwright. Whether he is expressing his desires or helping a co-actor to give a vent to her stifled emotions, he resorts to Shakespeare. It seems as if Shakespeare runs in his blood. Yet he left theatre when he was about to play his dream role, King Lear. The scenes where he confronts Siddharth about films or where he goes down on his knees to let him do his own stunts are some of the best moments of The Last Lear. In a last effort to deliver a perfect performance Harry is ready to risk his own life, he strongly believes that it is the desire to perform that makes an actor and even at an age of 65 both Harry and Amitabh Bachchan have that yearning.
The accident has left him as a vegetable. He is bed-ridden and cannot recognise people. At the end of the film Shabnam meets him and utters a line and two from Shakespeare. Amazingly the man responds and he recites from the playwright. Even at a moment when he has, probably, forgotten his own name he remembers the dialogues from the plays. Shakespeare runs in his blood.
In a sub plot the director shows women, hailing from different strata of society, being abused at home. Both Shabnam and Ivy are mentally and physically tortured. In a contrast he shows Vandana who walks out of a marriage, falls in love with Harish and lives with him. A strong willed lady who is abhors the idea of charity to treat Harry. Shefali Shah, with a South Indian accent, is mind blowing in her role. And so is Divya Dutta as Ivy. Her composed character is definitely an antithesis to Vandana's.
The Last Lear is also about Siddharth who remains distant. Like Harry he, too, is impassionate about his work. A man of few words Siddharth can go to any extent to make his film. For the first time when Harry does his own stunt he does not look dead and hence the scene needs to be reworked. The cliff from where he jumps had several trees and branches. The second time when the shot is prepared Siddharth clears away those trees. Clearly he can be directly blamed for Harry's ailment. Inspite of repeated requests from several people he does not go to meet Harry. Probably he suffers from guilt conscious. In his life, too, the actor has left a lasting impression. Arjun Rampal once again delivers a remarkable performance. The moments where he shares the screen space with Mr. Bachchan, not once is he overshadowed by the veteran actor.
Preity Zinta is refreshing in the role of Shabnam. Her controlled acting is impressive. But The Last Lear belongs to Amitabh Bachchan. The fervor with which enacts from Shakespearean plays, the thunderous voice in which he recites the will simply leave the audience dazed. And of course, The Last Lear belongs to Rituparno Ghosh who commendably presented Harish Mishra to the world.
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