In his first feature film The Last Color, writer/director Vikas Khanna tells a story at a time in India when Indian culture exiled its widows in the ashram and forbade them from participating in society. This unjust horror serves as a backdrop to a story of love and friendship between a widow and a young girl.
The Last Color takes place in 1991 in the city of Banaras at a time when Indian citizens began to push back (more nudge) against the caste system and political corruption. Khanna’s film focuses on the friendship of two women. First is the widow Noor (Neena Gupta) banished to the ashram and forced to wear a white saree as a badge of humiliation for her low position in society. She is not allowed to travel far from the ashram or converse with the locals. She is forbidden to display any color other than white. Noor keeps to herself as all widows at that time should.
Then there is a small girl named Chhoti (Aqsa Siddiqui). Chhoti is slang for “shorty.” She lives as an orphan on the streets of Banaras with her friend Chintu (Rajeshwar Khanna). Chhoti and Chintu earn money each day performing a tight rope act in the town square. The two are always in trouble with the local police chief Raja (Aslam Sheikh) as begging on the street is illegal.
“…free-spirited Chhoti decides that she must be friends with Noor and buys her a cup of tea.”
One morning Chintu mysteriously disappears, and in Chhoti’s search, she meets Noor. The free-spirited Chhoti decides that she must be friends with Noor and buys her a cup of tea. Chhoti insert herself into Noor’s sadness, and soon they become fast friends. The story ultimately leads to the town’s celebration of Holi, the festival of color. As a dumb Westerner, I understand this festival is marked by basically a “color fight” when participants play with bright and vibrant colors, often in the form of various colorful flower petals and powders. Widows, like Noor, are legally prohibited from participating in Holi, which doesn’t sit well with Chhoti.
At its core, The Last Color is a story of rebirth. For Noor, she lived a sheltered and inhibited life as a widow, and she finds new life thanks to the youthful, naïve Chhoti. Chhoti, on the other hand, sees the discrimination against the widows and decides that she must stand up for them.