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The Lear effect

The Last Lear, starring Amitabh Bachchan, Preity Zinta and Arjun Rampal, is the most ambitious film for both director Rituparno Ghosh and producer Planman Motion Pictures. Arindam Chaudhuri, who helms Planman, is keeping his fingers crossed as the English film made in the Tollygunge studios is inching towards a February release. t2 caught up with the pony-tailed man from Delhi, in town for a management talk and a wedding in the family...

What is The Last Lear all about?

The film revolves around Amitabh Bachchan who plays Harish Mishra, a Bengali based in Calcutta. He is a theatre veteran and has acted in many Shakespeare plays. Arjun Rampal plays a director who wants to cast him in his film. But he has to put in a lot of effort to convince Harish Mishra to do the film. It is very interesting because Mr Bachchan is playing an actor in a film for the first time.... There are several wow moments in the film, but there is one where Mr Bachchan will leave the audience spellbound. It’s when Arjun visits him and demands to see a show reel to have an idea about his acting skills, but Mr Bachchan stands up and starts performing. It’s a magnificent scene!

With him around, what was it like on the sets?

He is very easy to work with. Though everyone on the floor would be very quiet, he would crack jokes all the time. He would call Rituda ‘Hitler’. And if ever Rituda was in a bad mood, Mr Bachchan would ask us to book him a ticket on a flight to Mumbai. The unit used to burst out laughing. Rituda would never enact a scene to him; the two would discuss it together. Mr Bachchan rehearsed before every shot. He would sit in one corner and read the script quietly.

He often used to talk in Bengali. In one particular scene, he needed to drink and perform. All of a sudden, Mr Bachchan started speaking in Bengali. When the shot got over, Rituda pointed out that the dialogue was in English. But Mr Bachchan replied that when a person is drunk he speaks his mother tongue!

How did he come across as an individual?

He is very disciplined. He would hit the gym at six in the morning and follow a very strict diet. He is extremely hardworking and very energetic even at this age. He would shoot all day and retire only in the evening.

Will we see Preity Zinta in a career-defining role?

Both Preity and Arjun will surprise the audience. So far we’ve seen Preity as a bubbly actress. In The Last Lear, we will see her in a serious role. Preity plays Shabnam, an actress.... But if there’s anyone who could match up to Mr Bachchan then it was Shefali Shah. The unit clapped for both after every scene. Shefali’s character is in a live-in relationship with Harish.... Divya Dutta is good too, as a nurse.

How important is The Last Lear for Planman Motion Pictures?

It’s very important. We’ve made films we’ve believed in and very often they did not have the potential to do well commercially. But we want Last Lear to be a commercially viable film. The fact that Mr Bachchan, Preity Zinta and Arjun Rampal are there makes it commercial. We will release the film in the second week of February across the country and overseas. The language should not be a problem because it is much like the way we speak.... I have invested Rs 11 crore in the film and I know I will get my money back. Had it been a Rs 20-crore film I would have been worried. The promos will be on air in a fortnight and we expect a big response from the audience abroad.

How was the film received at the film festivals?

The Last Lear travelled to festivals in Toronto, Rome, UAE, London and finally to IFFI Goa. We got a standing ovation in Toronto where there were a few Indians in the audience. And it was phenomenal in Rome. The European crowd was all praise for the film. People were so impressed, so moved...

What other plans does Planman have with Rituparno?

Well, we were supposed to do Kabuliwala with Mr Bachchan; Rituda would have directed it. But it’s being made in Hollywood, so we dropped it. There’s some post-production work still left for Sunglass.

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