Director Vikas Khanna’s The Last Color is a beautiful but sad film about the world of the untouchables and widows of Vrindavan, India. This emotionally compelling story begins as a flashback from a young adult woman Choti(Aqsa Siddique), seen through her eyes as a precocious street smart riverbank girl. She and her friend Chintu (Rajeswar Khanna) hustle on the streets to make enough money to survive barely but to ultimately raise 300 rupees so that Choti can go to school. But the reality of segregated caste society in India makes those dreams impossible to achieve. Illegally performing impressive tightrope acts for paying customers, Choti and Chintu are harassed by the corrupt policemen of that city. Chased through the colorful streets, Choti comes upon a widow praying. Noor (Neena Gupta) can’t be bothered by this cute pestering child who is curious about her solitary clean white presence. Soon enough, she becomes smitten by this chatty little girl who provides much-needed company to the widow.
Back at her Ashram, a place where all widows must live, Noor sleeps on the floor of a room with a mean-spirited woman, and she smiles as she falls asleep thinking of the lively sweet girl that came into her life. As their generational friendship further develops and Choti comes to understand that as a widow, Noor is not permitted to participate in the upcoming Holi celebration of colors, hence wearing of all white only. Noor admits to Choti that before she became a widow, she used to wear colors – she loved pink.
When they meet the next day, Choti presents Noor with pink nail polish and proceeds to paint a few of Noor’s toenails before they are both forced to leave the spot along the Ganges river by police. They both encounter the mistreatment and alienation as untouchables and find solace on a rooftop as they dance together and pretend to participate in Holi and splash vibrant colors upon each other. In one of the few scenes with Hindi music, this symbolic dance seals their emotional bond with each other. Choti is the daughter Noor didn’t have, and Noor is the mother Choti never knew.
The Last Color also explores the home life of the corrupt local chief of police, Raja, and his abusive treatment of his wife, who has failed to give him a son. While he also takes out his sexual frustrations on a transgender female, Anarkarli, by abusing and raping her. Under constant threat of being replaced by the young Choti, Anarkarli, in a protective guardian role, sacrifices herself to spare Choti the same abuse. Due to unfortunate timing, Choti witnesses this horrific act and goes into hiding as the police are looking for her. Upon finishing sewing Choti a pink dress made from a Sari that Noor is not permitted to wear anymore, she learns about Choti’s disappearance and goes searching for her before the police find her.
The cinematography of The Last Color showcases the glorious colors of an impoverished city that shows that it is alive because of the variety of colors that are used to create life there. When Noor finds Choti, they embrace and make plans to escape together. They don’t know where, but somehow, they have to leave together. But their plans are destroyed when the police find Choti per a tip from a wicked widow.
You don’t have to know someone long enough to love them for a lifetime. But Choti prevails due to the motherly love Noor gave her during their short time together. Choti grew up to make Noor proud and helped usher new laws 24 years later to free widows to enjoy Holi, the celebration of colors. The Last Color is a beautiful film about how a little dash of pink altered the lives of every widowed woman in India.
The Last Color stars Neena Gupta, Aqsa Siddiqui, Rudrani Chhetri, Rajeshwar Khanna and opened in theaters October 25th, 2019
Reviewed by Simone Cromer /twitter: @theatreofzen