Amitabh's 'Last Lear' premieres at IFFI

The Big B may have been missing, but tickets for all 1,300 seats in the Inox multiplex in the heart of Panaji were taken as Rituparno Ghosh's first English-language film, "The Last Lear", starring the redoubtable Amitabh Bachchan as a Shakespearean actor who is drawn into the world of the movies, was unspooled simultaneously on four screens at the 38th International Film Festival Friday evening.
Excitement was palpable all through the day even though it was already known that none of the major stars of the film - Amitabh Bachchan, Preity Zinta and Arjun Rampal - were going to put in an appearance at the premiere. However, director Rituparno Ghosh, supporting cast members Shefali Shah and Divya Dutta and Shubho Shekhar Bhattacharya, CEO, Planman Motion Pictures, were at hand for the pre-screening presentation.

Interestingly, the producers of "The Last Lear" told a segment of the electronic media that a spare hotel room had been booked just in case Amitabh decided to change his mind at the last minute. That fuelled speculation that the Bollywood megastar might spring an eleventh-hour surprise. But that was not to be.

In Ghosh's much-anticipated film - its USP is the fact that it is Amitabh Bachchan's first-ever English-language film, the worlds of theatre and cinema collide in a manner that leaves a trail of disillusionment on either side. On the one hand is Harry (Amitabh), an eccentric thespian who is pulled out of retirement by an arrogant and persistent film director Siddharth (Arjun) for one last shot at glory.

The ageing actor, proud of his work in a slew of Shakespearean plays, is reluctant at first, and then completely dismissive. He finally agrees to take the plunge. That has disastrous consequences for him personally even as he changes the life of an upcoming actress, Shabnam (Preity), with the purity of his vision and the strength of his commitment to the character he agrees to flesh out for the camera.

Although completely different in essence, "The Last Lear" is, to a certain extent, a continuation of a theme that Ghosh had initiated in "Bariwali". The latter had a film unit cynically impinging upon the life of an old widow and using her to further their own interests. In "The Last Lear", the young filmmaker's worldview is at complete variance with that of the veteran actor. But both are headstrong individuals and will do whatever it takes to achieve their ends.

The question that "The Last Lear" poses is: is this destructive streak, aimed either inward or outward, an essential element in the process of creativity? Must a creative person be necessarily self-centred? In the pursuit of their goals, the two men go over the edge, one literally, the other figuratively.

Even in his absence, Amitabh Bachchan was a towering presence at the premiere. Most of the questions hurled at director Ghosh pertained to why his lead actor has chosen to stay away. The director obviously had no answer.

Ghosh would only say in his own inimitable vein how much of a privilege it was to have teamed up with Big B. "He has redefined professionalism through his warmth and humility. He is so human. He combines the enthusiasm of a newcomer with the experience of a veteran. It is easy to see why filmmakers are dying to work with him," he said.

"I can do a thousand films with Amitabh Bachchan. It's such a delight to work with him," the Kolkata-based director gushed. If only officials of the Directorate of Film Festivals had the freedom to agree with that sentiment.

Indo-Asian News Service