Kamil Saif's short film, Last Rehearsal, bagged the Best Short Film award at the 29th Kolkata International Film Festival. It delves into the challenges faced by a propaganda playwright during the final rehearsals of a play centred around a Muslim boy, Shoaib (Suresh Poonia), asking a Hindu girl, Ankita (Karishma Maan), to convert for their love. Ankita, the lead actress, declines to recite the 'kalma' on stage, fearing an accidental conversion to Islam. Despite persuasion from the director (Anjum Rizvi) and a local counsilor emphasising the play's opportunity to expose the reality of girls in fake love affairs, she remains steadfast. Citing Russian theatre practitioner Konstantin Stanislavski, she insists on the importance of actors believing in their lines for a genuine performance. This disagreement brings the rehearsal to a standstill, jeopardising the fate of the play.
In the past few years, we've seen how unchecked news, WhatsApp forwards, and rumours can lead to harmful consequences. Last Rehearsal provides a waggish portrayal of this current socio-political landscape, with situations where people's lives are at stake if the rehearsal is not performed according to plan. It displays how the politics of hate, social division, and ingrained patriarchy can have devastating consequences for individuals and communities alike. In short, the play serves as a powerful critique of societal norms and exposes the fragile nature of our interconnectedness, reminding us of the urgent need for inclusivity and the importance of challenging oppressive systems.
In the realm of filmmaking, where polished perfection reigns supreme, Last Rehearsal defies convention with its raw and unapologetically amateurish treatment. Though not a completely unconventional approach, however, it proves to be working in tandem with the narrative to create a unique experience reminiscent of an intimate theatre rehearsal. From the opening scenes, it's evident that the film embraces a certain level of unrefined authenticity, challenging the audience's expectations. The cinematography, marked by uninterrupted and unpolished framing, gives the impression of witnessing an impromptu performance. At first glance, this might be misconstrued as a lack of technical prowess, but as the narrative uncoils, it becomes clear that this deliberate style is a choice.
The ensemble cast delivers performances that feel as if the audience is granted access to a private rehearsal, witnessing the actors undergo ordeals in real-time that happen backstage. Saif's decision to embrace the amateurish aesthetic extends to the production design and soundscapes. Set designs appear makeshift, and sound cues occasionally falter, yet these apparent flaws only give the audience a feel of becoming an active participant, filling in the gaps with their imagination, much like a theatregoer engaged in a live performance.
Last Rehearsal's refusal to tie everything up neatly challenges the notion that a film must provide answers. Instead, it dares to ask difficult questions about the society we live in, urging audiences to confront the laughable nature of certain mindsets that persist despite education and intelligence. It invites audiences to reflect on the world they inhabit and consider the role they play in dismantling the walls of intolerance.