In the early 1950s, when Le Corbusier, a pioneer of modern architecture, was called to design Chandigarh, India’s first planned city, he hit a peculiar hurdle: superstition. Corbusier was told not to include the “unlucky” number 13 in the city, which was to be carved into sectors. On the face of it, he did as told and the city has no Sector 13. But in his own way, the ingenious architect splattered Chandigarh with number 13. He placed the sectors in such a way that every opposite sector adds to a number divisible by 13. So, Sector 1 faces Sector 12. Twelve lies opposite 14, 14 borders 25, and so on.
Taking a cue from Corbusier’s idiosyncrasy, Kabir Chowdhry, one of the 12 directors of The Last Act, gives a cultish twist to his section of the film that he has shot in this meticulously planned — and often labelled boringly placid — city. The Last Act, a collaborative film project conceived by Anurag Kashyap, Sudhir Mishra and US-based Indian director Chakri Toleti, is full of such enigmatic sequences.
A thriller, the film opens with an unidentified man being found brutally murdered, his brains half splattered out. On the body are 12 clues — a newspaper cutting, a wristwatch, a broken SIM card, the map of Chandigarh, a bus ticket from Bangalore to Chennai, and so on — each leading to a different city in India. Kashyap and Co picked 12 directors from different cities and gave them each a clue around which they had to shoot a 10-minute segment. What added to the enigma was that the directors remained unknown to one another during the project. None of them even knew which segment would come before or after theirs.
So what we get in The Last Act is a murder mystery pieced together through 12 short films shot in varied styles and textures and following different genres — from the completely abstract to commercial, from dark comedy or tragedy to thriller. It’s a wonder that they all hold together as a cohesive, coherent film. All in all, there are over 35 largely unknown actors with Saurabh Shukla, Asif Basra and Shreyas Pandit playing the key characters. It’s a maze of stories, locations and artists, and after a while, it takes some effort to keep up with the lot that’s happening in the film.
With every location or director change, we see a new side of the murdered man — we don’t know for sure if he is a victim or a killer who ends up getting killed. The mystery also takes us into the lives and travails of the fringe characters — like the woman with a personality disorder from Kalyan (segment directed by Tejas Joshi), or the troubled policeman from Hissar (directed by Kalyan Varun Chowdhary). The film veers from the bizarre to the surreal. From being lulled by a meandering narrative one moment, the viewer is plunged into a fast-paced thriller the next.
Asmit Pathare, director and project in-charge , opens the film with his clue (a play ticket). He had to ensure that the transitions were smooth and one segment flowed into another. “The directors from Gwalior or Kalyan had to travel outside the city for dubbing. We had to smoothen out variations in sound quality and voice recordings,” says Pathare, who finished the sound and subtitling five days before the screening on 12-12-12. Incidentally, only the Chennai part is not in Hindi.
This was Bangalore-based Nitye Sood’s second collaborative film, the earlier being The Owner by 25 film makers from 13 countries.“We were constantly discussing script and scenes,” says Sood. “The Last Act,” adds Delhi-based director Nijo Johnson who has made the broken SIM card segment, “was a mystery for us too.” The directors got to see the finished film only once it was released.
The Last Act is a roller-coaster ride for its creators and the viewers. And, it’s worth a watch for the experiment it has pulled off.