Mumbai, 19 Oct 2019 10:00 IST
The film, which revolves around a widow and a little girl in Varanasi, offers a grassroots view of the holy town.
The year is 1989 in Varanasi or Benares or Kashi, whatever you wish to call it, the holiest Hindu town situated on the banks of the Ganga. Celebrated chef-turned-filmmaker Vikas Khanna’s The Last Color features some unholy practices at this holy place but also shows how love and humanity can overcome various evils.
The Last Color portrays Varanasi at the grassroots level. It shows the darker side of the holy city but also impresses you with its uncanny beauty.
The film tells the story of two female characters. One is Chhoti (Aqsa Siddiqui), an orphan who is probably under 10 years of age and makes a living by performing tightrope walks. Noor (Neena Gupta) is an ageing widow living a subhuman existence in one of the many shelters in Varanasi.
Among the many restrictions put on widows by traditional society is a ban on celebrating Holi, the festival of colours. Then, of course, there are the routine atrocities by the local police and by those who promote other social evils.
Although Chhoti and Noor stay in the same vicinity, they belong to two different worlds altogether, and not just because of their age difference. So how can they develop a friendship that is transformed into a bond of love and humanity?
It is the negative practices like discrimination and man-made restrictions that unite the two diametrically opposite characters. While Noor faces the brunt, being a widow, Chhoti is also continuously discriminated against as an 'untouchable', not just by temple priests but also a tea-seller.
The unusual bond that forms between Chhoti and Noor is the film's biggest plus point. It happens in a natural and gradual manner. You do not even realize when it happens, but you soon find yourself rooting for them and the heartwarming feeling their bond provides.
The moving performances by the two actresses are key in achieving this effect. Gupta shows yet again why she is rated among the finest actresses in the country today. Her character is forced to bottle up various expressions and emotions and live a life of silence.
There is a moment in the film when Noor is so mesmerized by the way Chhoti behaves with her that the harsh words of an older widow fall on deaf ears. This scene not only sums up the performance of Gupta but also encapsulates the relationship that develops between Noor and Chhoti.
But the most striking feature of the film is Aqsa Siddiqui’s performance as Chhoti. Her cuteness and confidence while speaking even difficult lines are amazing. The moments where she persuades Noor to do something deserve special mention. There are times when she speaks a bit too fast. But this habit actually goes well with the character of a precocious child.
The film later changes track and goes into crime drama mode from the simple tale of two helpless characters and the shift results in a chaotic narrative. The subtlety of the earlier portions also gives way to a somewhat loud and melodramatic tone which is jarring. The same is the case with the background score as gentle sounds give way to loud music.
The Last Color eventually moves to 2013 when Chhoti is grown up and the Supreme Court has allowed the widows of Varanasi to play Holi. This portion saves the day and you leave the hall thinking more about the pluses.
The Last Color was screened at the 21st Mumbai Film Festival on 18 October.
Related topicsMAMI Mumbai Film Festival
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