Writing a negative review of “The Last Color” feels like any person of conscience would in attacking its young heroine; you’re kicking something sweet and defenseless. The directorial debut of chef Vikas Khanna is driven by high ideals, but the talent and resources to make a better film simply aren’t present. Based on Khanna’s novel, this Indian drama examines the country’s history of prejudice and discrimination against “untouchables,” as well as widows and transgender women.
Choti (Aqsa Siddique) is a tiny tightrope walker, who lives on the streets of Banaras along the Ganges River. The 9-year-old child forms an unlikely friendship with aging widow Noor (Neena Gupta), and she vows to enjoy the Holi festival with the woman, despite the taboo against widows’ celebration of the holiday. Meanwhile, corrupt cops are intent on violence, and they’ll do anything they can to remain in power while preying on the powerless.
“The Last Color” effectively communicates the emotional bond between Choti and Noor, and their friendship is moving despite the film’s larger problems. The movie is at its strongest in the moments between them, but melodrama and an overstuffed plot often overshadow the genuine feeling here.
There are some truly lovely images, largely thanks to the colorful beauty of Holi, but the clumsy editing distracts from its message. Khanna’s first feature means well, but it tries too hard.
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Town Center, Encino