Special package on The Last Lear
"I shall be good simply because I cannot be bad." This is Harry, an aging, eccentric, Shakespearean actor in Rituparno Ghosh's The Last Lear
. The line works equally well for the actor playing Harry: Amitabh Bachchan.
Here he delivers soliloquies, breathes fire, hams and generally chews up the scenery but even when he's way over the top, Mr B commands attention. He holds your gaze, even as the rest of the film wilts away.
Working from Utpal Dutt's play Aajker Shahjahan
, Ghosh creates a character study of a theatre actor who lives largely on vodka and memories of past glories. Harry had spent precisely 30 years and 9 months on stage but then he suddenly quit and never came back.
A movie director convinces Harry to act in film. Harry takes on the role of a circus clown but this adventure ends in tragedy.
Ghosh's affection for Harry is palpable. The film works best when Ghosh is setting up his character - a man who has tins hanging on a rope instead of a door-bell. Harry insists this should work just as well - all it needs, he says, is that visitors have a little imagination. Harry's relationship with the director Sid is also nicely established - there is a wonderful scene of Sid and Harry trying to catch passers-by as they pee on the walls of Harry's house.
However, these sparkling moments are bogged down by a ponderous pace and a meandering script.
Ghosh spends too much time setting up his film within a film framework. There is also a tedious sub-plot that involves an actress, nicely played by Priety Zinta, and her abusive lover.
Post-interval, the script becomes even more incoherent and the climax is totally unconvincing. We are never persuaded by the events that take place so it's hard to conjure up ache for the tragedy. Ghosh veers between underlining too much-there is annoying voice-over telling us what we already know-and not telling enough - we don't find out why Harry left the stage until the last reel.
As a filmmaker, he also sends out a decidedly mixed signal telling us that theatre is a much higher artistic calling than cinema.
The Last Lear
is a poignant story that doesn't realise its potential. It's frustrating because the material and performances are rich. Go to the theatre prepared to be patient.