Saturday, October 4, 2008

Kaustav's Arden: The Last Lear: Has Rituparno Lost His “Art to Enchant”?

Kaustav's Arden: The Last Lear: Has Rituparno Lost His “Art to Enchant”?

The Last Lear: Has Rituparno Lost His “Art to Enchant”?

Suit the action to the word, the word to the action,
With this special observance, that you o’er step not the modesty of
Nature. For anything so o’erdone is from the purpose of
playing, whose end, both at first and now, was and is to
hold as ‘twere the mirror up to nature…

Generally, Rituparno Ghosh impresses by strictly adhering to Hamlet’s advice to the first player. The Last Lear is no exception, at least apparently. Yet, the story of bringing out an old stage actor out of his cloister required a lot more passion. One keeps on wondering what Ghosh’s real aim is. Is it to prove to the world that he can cast Amitabh Bachchan in a hatke role? Is Harry’s characterization pre-conditioned by the fact that Bachchan would play it? So, does Bachchan play Harry or does Harry play Bachchan?

Harry, after quitting stage, confines himself to an outwardly dilapidated house, where in a well-furnished room, he seems to exist in the imagined grandeur of a Shakespearean stage. Clothed in long-flowing robes, revelling in the opulence of Shakespeare’s poetry, Harry with his baritone voice and King Lear/Prospero-like looks seems not to have outgrown the stage characters he had been passionately playing all these years. Harry could have been a more believable character had the place not been Kolkata. How feasible is it for Harry to have portrayed one Shakespearean character after another on some stage of Kolkata in the 60s and 70s, and that too in English? Who were his audience? If Harry happened to be an immensely successful Shakespearean actor, did Kolkata really have a credible audience for English plays of the Elizabethan age in the 60s and 70s? This is a major anomaly which is not clarified in the film. Utpal Dutt is the primary influence behind the film; but weren’t his plays predominantly in Bengali? Ghosh should have been more careful. Or else, he should have made it clear whether Harry was a popular actor or was a good actor who had never been recognized by the populace. The impression he gives, of course, is that Harry was a popular actor who had left the stage when he was at the pinnacle of success, all of a sudden. One more thing which immensely perturbs us is the reason behind Harry’s quitting the stage. Capricious as he is, Harry could have a more eccentric reason of not returning to the stage than a flimsy reason like someone saying “something bad” about his live-in partner.

When Siddharth Kumar approaches Harry for the role of a clown, he immediately connects with him by responding unwittingly to one of his whimsicalities. He happens to call on Harry by ringing the assortment of broken tin containers acting as a bell. To Harry’s pleasant surprise Siddharth also happens to recognize the Shakespearean quote he passionately delivers at the entrance. Harry welcomes him upstairs and what follows is a long conversation on the differences between the two performing arts — cinema and theatre. But unfortunately the conflict does not take a proper shape and seems to find a resolution with that one conversation. Hardly any such conflict arises when they actually work. Harry is given the role of a circus clown, which is definitely different from the clowns of Shakespeare. So, do we have to believe that no argument arose between the new age director and the old theatre personality immersed in Shakespearean plays in the process of filming the movie? Is it that easy to get an erratic theatre actor conform to the method of film-acting which is presumably more restrained and subdued? Some arguments did arise about trivial things like the real time of the shoot and the time mentioned in the script which, in a way, seemed ridiculous. It was unnecessary to point out that Hamlet used to begin in broad daylight in England, though the opening scene starts at midnight. Harry is intelligent enough to understand that time on screen can be well manipulated by advance cameras and manoeuvring of the lights. The focus of the argument should have been somewhere else. However, it’s understandable that given his dedication to acting, Harry vehemently objects to taking a body-double even for the riskiest of scenes. But somehow, the film fails to impress as Bachchan does not really outgrow his image of a megastar. His refusal to take a body-double seems to have been inspired by the image of Bachchan, the hero. Therefore, the audience fails to live through the pains of an actor whose art is gradually losing its relevance. Black was bad; but The Last Lear is worse. I deliberately brought in the comparison; for Ghosh seemed too preoccupied with showing Bhansali that he could have made Bachchan “act” better. And true, Bachchan does “act” here; he does not “behave”. And it is here that the film loses the fine Rituparno Ghosh touch.

And then there is an awful subplot of the three women bonding: Shabnam, Bandana and Ivy come together on a Diwali night and happen to find a confidant in each other. But alas! None of the characters are well-developed and therefore the audience fail to sympathize with them. Both Shabnam and Ivy have clichéd love stories to tell and the problems discussed have been so often repeated in Ghosh’s films that they simply get on the nerves. Men are always so very un-understanding types in Rituparno Ghosh films, and women keep on complaining. How very boring! And what the audience do not simple get of hang of is why Harry rails against some veteran stage director’s (Neeraj Patel) homosexuality. How stupid of him to call Neeraj Patel a “she” because of his homosexuality! How does a man’s love for another man change his gender? Ghosh must be aware of this; but he does not really establish why Patel’s homosexuality disturbs Harry so much. Then what was the purpose of giving the audience a glimpse of Harry’s homophobia? Or, did Harry find Patel’s practice of sleeping with different men an immoral practice? Would he have been fine if Patel had one steady relationship? What is it, damn it?

The Last Lear has amazing sets, astounding cinematography and some touching moments, such as Harry’s going down the stairs without his glasses. Arjun Rampal’s intense acting is something to watch out for; but Shefali Shah’s role, as she claims, is certainly not the best till date. Preity Zinta is not much different from what she is usually good at doing. Jisshu Sengupta is drab and Prasenjit Chatterjee is irritatingly drabber. I didn’t know he can’t speak English. For, Ghosh has got his voice dubbed. On the whole, the film fails to impress. Actually no one had expected so much “Sound and fury” that was associated with the making and release of the film would so definitively and literally end up “signifying nothing”.