Although there are some clunky portions in the narration, specially the enforced climax, The Last Color is a true heartwarmer, a rare film in the Hindi language that has a heart, a mind and plenty of balls.
Masterchef Vikas Khanna takes on the horrendous ancient tradition of abandoning widows in Varanasi, leaving them to fend for themselves and die. The film, based on Khanna’s own novel, weaves a beautiful relationship between a derelict widow and a spirited urchin who in her own naïve way, teaches the widow the value of life and the preciousness of every breath.
The film opens with the urchin Choti (an excellent uninhibited Aqsa Siddiqui) doing what she knows in her brief life—walking the tightrope, literally, as a voiceover informs that, “The sun wins every day. But during the solar eclipse it is the moon that wins.” From this inspired beginning, Vikas Khanna works his narration organically into the bond between the Varanasi widow and her unlikely little friend. Their scenes together have an unrehearsed spontaneous feel and flavor to them.
Colour, specially the colour pink plays a major role in the film. It is the widow’s favourite. My favourite moment in the film is when Choti brings a jar of pink nailpolish for her new friend and tenderly paints her toenails. Such moments imbue the narrative with a magical quality making you forget the excesses that finally overpower the plot.
Watching Neena Gupta and the supremely undaunted Aqsa Siddiqui thresh out a feminine kinship is one of the great joys of watching this film. The plucky little girl simply plunges into the chance offered for a special bonding. She buys tea for her new friend with her own hard-earned money with the question, “You tee dink?”
Neena Gupta’s weatherworn face breaks into a smile every time she meets the girl. I wish Vikas Khanna had focused on female bromance instead of letting the plot scamper into different directions. There is Choti’s best friend Chintu (Rajeshwar Khanna) who wants to grow up to be a cop to help the distressed, a brutalized eunuch Anarkali (thus named because her parents abandoned her in a theatre screening Mughal-e-Azam), and a cop Raja (Aslam Sheikh) so uni-dimensionally villainous as to give evil a bad name. The diabolic cop brings the otherwise-gentle narration kicking, dragging and screaming to its climax. This concession to a conventional closure could have comfortably been avoided in a film so bold and out-of-the-box.
On the plus side, The Last Color is exquisitely shot. Cinematographer Subhranshu Das lenses Varanasi with a keen eye for the sublimity and the squalor that characterize the Holy city. Very often the film reminded me of Deepa Mehta’s Water. Eventually, Vikas Khanna’s look into the lives of outcasts on the banks of the river Ganga is all his own. The film is original, thought provoking, heartwarming and deeply affecting. Not to be missed.
Image source: Instagram/thelastcolorfilm