Director: Amit Kumar
Writers: Amit Kumar, Anupama Minz
Cinematography: Jayesh Nair
Edited by: Peter Alderliesten, Annelotte Medema
Starring: Sanjay Kapoor, Shahana Goswami, Karma Tapaka, Shaylee Krishen
Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video
The Last Hour is a rare web series set entirely in Northeast India. One of the two lead actors (Ralang Road director Karma Takapa) is Sikkimese, as are most of the local characters forming the backdrop of the story. In what looks like Sikkim, the eight-episode show nevertheless subscribes to the exoticized “otherness” of the Northeast by employing the age-old template of a city cop (played by mainstream actor Sanjay Kapoor) on a ‘grief posting’. Arup Singh is a central character, but he also stands in for Hindi cinema’s remote and uninitiated view of a culture that deserves better than blanket terminology (the entire region is perceived as one State). He represents a majority of the show’s audience in the way he’s introduced to the mythical legends and rituals of a misty mountain town. A year after his wife’s death, Arup hopes to start afresh with his young daughter, Pari (Shaylee Krishen), but is immediately faced with a spate of murders in the otherwise peaceful place. A broken Pari meanwhile suspects that her father had something to do with her mother’s “accident”. Raima Sen, who plays the dead mother, possesses the unenviable task of being the mysterious sari-clad ghost forever looking over her shoulder with a half-smile.
The primary plot revolves around Arup’s unlikely partnership with Dev, a local Shaman who has the power to communicate with the souls of dead people. Dev’s ritual is Inception-like in nature: Before a body goes cold, Dev lies down next to a corpse, lights a candle, interlocks his fingers with them and enters a dreamscape between life and death. The premise is fascinating – a policeman teaming up with someone who can travel an hour back in time leading up to the victim’s death. Dev’s track has its own arc too: He is on the run from a murderous one-eyed Shaman called Yama Nadu, who wants Dev’s power to more or less change the past and destroy the world. He will do Marvel villains proud. Not to mention the blossoming love story between Dev and Pari, which has its own quirk. Every time Dev travels back an hour to solve a crime, he drifts away from the soul and follows Pari instead, noticing that she is the only one who can “see” him in the past. It’s a worthy setting – challenging the coherence of time to find a soulmate. In short, it’s all very intricately designed: a brooding mix of the supernatural, science fiction and mythology.
What The Last Hour promises on a conceptual level is however totally undone by a stilted sense of craft. The narrative lacks rhythm, control and timing, often succumbing to the corny excesses of the Vikram Bhatt supernatural universe. Director Amit Kumar’s last film, Monsoon Shootout, suffered from a similar problem: a profound idea centered on time wrestled with a broader lack of technical vision. But Monsoon Shootout pulled through largely due to its cast. A breakout performance by Vijay Varma combined with an intense Nawazuddin Siddiqui act to ensure that the film only just managed to transcend its dated palette. The Last Hour has no such parachutes. Sanjay Kapoor is sincere but visibly handicapped by inert direction and dialogue, Karma Takapa struggles to look anything except Mohit-Suri-hero pained, the best actor of the lot Shahana Goswami isn’t given enough to do, and Shaylee Krishen, who is a spitting image of a younger Swastika Mukherjee, is limited by the show’s shattered-doll filming of her. The action scenes are clumsily stitched together, and most of the non-professional faces look uncomfortable on screen. As a result, Kumar’s executional flaws are not just exposed but amplified by the running length of eight meandering episodes – all of which culminates in one of the most anti-climactic cop-outs to a time-travel story I’ve seen.
The writing is curious, ambitious even, but loses itself in the long-form magnitude of storytelling. For instance, the first episode is centered on the rape and murder of a small-time Bengali actress in the hills. But it is composed like a separate universe altogether, meant only to convince Arup of Dev’s unique powers. Dev goes through a personal tragedy here, but the resolution is hurried, incoherent, and has virtually nothing to do with the rest of the series. The ‘afterlife’ space that Dev often finds himself in is also designed with a 90s-television aesthetic – sepia-tinted frames, lens flares and a mortal riverbank. Then there’s something as simple as the voice in Pari’s head, which is supposed to be a symbol of her psychological condition but instead ends up sounding like a B-movie horror device. Furthermore, at no point does the quaint town ever look concerned about the sudden series of mysterious killings; the police chief who appears in the first episode is absent throughout, especially when the excretion really hits the oscillation. Even Sikkim is shot from the point of view of an outsider; the camera never fully feels at ease with the diverse choice of light or location at hand.
There is genuine integrity to each scene, and the willing of depth is so noble that it hurts. But I eventually started to feel like a parent watching his kids fumble in the one sport they are passionate about
I really wish more attention had been paid to the details, the little creative decisions that bridge the gap between visualization and visuals. The face of the villain, the physical darkness of the frames, the transitions, an extended stay in shots to accentuate a sense of urgency – so much misses the mark that it’s difficult to fully appreciate the risks the creators take. The Last Hour is the kind of series I really wanted to like, at least at a fundamental level. What it signifies in context of the Indian streaming landscape is just as important as how competent the production is. There is genuine integrity to each scene, and the willing of depth is so noble that it hurts. But I eventually started to feel like a parent watching his kids fumble in the one sport they are passionate about. My heart kept sinking every time an actor didn’t know where to look, or the editing tried to cover up the patchy filming. After a while, there was simply no running away from the hard truth. Filmmaking is a visual medium, and therefore inherently inclined towards a seamlessness of imagery. A great idea alone, in 2021, is no longer the most resilient parasite.