Gangtok: Often when films and TV series get shot in places like Sikkim, it’s all about MG Marg or Mount Kanchenjunga. But Amazon Prime Video’s The Last Hour is different.
The new web series is set in a fictitious city somewhere in the Northeast. So, while Sikkim quietly works in the background, the suspense thriller happens in the foreground.
The story is also one that is beautifully crafted, bringing about the Himalayan state’s own mythology and cultural practices such as shamanism, locally termed as jhakris (shamans).
In the real world, a shaman — played by Sikkim’s Karma Takapa as Dev in the series — may not be of much use to a cop. But here, he works hand in hand with a policeman played by Sanjay Kapoor as Aroop and his associate Lipika, played by Shahana Goswami.
The series, spread in eight episodes, keeps the audience engaged right till the end. Even the end doesn’t feel like the end, so there is definitely a season 2 to watch out for.
The series also casts Raima Sen, playing the character of the spirit of Aroop’s deceased wife, along with Shaylee Krishen, who plays Aroop’s daughter Pari. The antagonist in the film is Robin Tamang, who plays the villainous shaman, Yama Nadu.
Tamang is a rock legend from Nepal, popular as the frontman of the band Robin and Looza.
The series was shot in Sikkim in January 2019, extending to a 90-day period, followed by additional indoor shoots in Mumbai. The series has a long list of local star cast and, apart from the scenic beauty portrayed in the series, it is also about seeing familiar faces on screen, the likes of Annie Zimba Tamng, Saran Rai and Timothy Rai, some of whom are raw local acting talents from Sikkim.
The depiction of the jhakri is where the story points towards Sikkim. The subtle transition from Mangan in North Sikkim to Rabong in South Sikkim is lost to the common eye until you notice the background.
Amit Kumar, the director of the film, has done an outstanding job of erasing those transitions. He has portrayed a dark, gritty story that keeps you hooked to binge watch throughout. The name changes of Mangan becoming Mangchen and Rabong becoming Lebong is perhaps only for the locals to notice. There are also subtle ways of exhibiting the local concerns, be it free education in Sikkim or the emotion surrounding NRC, which you will find lurking in the background.
Predominantly in Hindi, there are a few Nepali language dialogues that come in between as well, just to keep up with the local dialect and adding honesty to the story. The series was marred by the pandemic in 2020, but the release on May 14 has been a timely reconnection for some of the local actors, who at one point felt the series was forever lost.
EastMojo spoke with some of the local actors, most of whom were first-timers, to understand their experience of a rare ‘professional shoot in Sikkim’ and how excited they were to see themselves on screen.
Karma Takapa is a famous director from Sikkim, having already made another gritty suspense thriller based in Rabongla called Ralang Road, which has featured in international film festivals. But how was his transition from director to actor?
Takapa’s character Dev, who is the protagonist in the series, is so convincing as an actor that he may have to opt for a role reversal. Takapa is an alumnus of Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), just as the director Amit Kumar.
Takapa told EastMojo, “He (Amit Kumar) gave me a call one day and told me that he wanted to cast me for this show. He wanted a Northeastern face. I assumed he was calling me to ask if I knew anyone, but he was quite forceful that I should try. So, I auditioned for it.”
“But I had not seen myself as much of an actor to really commit to it, initially. I felt that it was a big show for the Northeast, particularly Sikkim. Getting a platform like Amazon is a big deal. So, I wanted to be a part of it and the script was fantastic,” he said.
“Amit is a very patient director; he is calm and easy to converse and share ideas with. Just because you direct doesn’t mean you will be a good actor or vice versa. I don’t call myself much of an actor; credit goes to the director,” he said.
On the bunch of young actors, all of whom were first timers, Takapa said, “Most of them are non-actors or first-timers. It gives you a lot of confidence in local casting and makes you feel good because I am from here too. Shooting in Rabong is one of the highlights for me. I have a strong connection to my place and I wanted it to be projected,” he said.
Sonam Barphungpa portrays the character of Loki, a college kid. “I had gone to the audition to help my friend who was to audition. She didn’t get selected. But when I entered the audition room to accompany her, the casting directors approached me, saying that I am tall and good looking and asked me to try,” he said.
“It was not that I hadn’t tried before, but I was more inclined on doing my own business, so acting was something I wanted to keep aside. But, when the casting director handed me the script of a scene from Loki’s character, they told me that I fit into the role,” he said.
“From then on they just started calling me Loki and told me to come to work from the very next day,” he added.
Allona Kabo Lepcha
Another local who has acted in the series in the character of Diki, a college student, Allona has had previous experience in acting. She worked in a local film, Appa, that was shot in Kalimpong. She was part of the casting team but thought it would be wise to go for the audition.
“I was expecting a change. I have worked as assistant director in another local movie, Fatichar, but then in another project, I realised people were just using us with no payment.’,” she said.
“But this series was very professional, they acknowledged that we were giving our time and talent. There is abundance of acting talent here, but there are so many problems. In the series, our local actors have done really well,” she added.
Dewashish Tamang, who plays the character of Pinto, is seen limping throughout the movie. He plays his character with conviction about a college student who has a history of polio deficiency. Hailing from Kalimpong and having worked in a local film Appa, Tamang said, “I was working in Appa, that is when I learned about the series and the audition happening. It was a big production and it made me nervous, but steadily I started adjusting to the role. Most of us were locals, so the environment was sound. The Mumbai team were also very welcoming.”
“Initially it was tough. I asked the directors how to go about it. It was not so challenging but the director aided me well. What ended up being challenging more than the braces in my leg through out the movie was the execution of the dialogues. Being not very well-versed in Hindi, they had to dub my character’s voice later,” he said.
“Everyone is happy to see me on screen,” he said.
The 21-year-old was already acting in films while he was in school. So, watch the series to know him better.
Sushmita Gurung, who plays the character of Bina in the series, has a minimal screen presence. However, she is a very important character who changes the narrative against the protagonist. A former Miss Sikkim runner-up, Gurung said: “It was quite big an opportunity, we hardly get such opportunities. It was different from budget films here. It was quite lavish, the treatment was good even to the junior artists like us.”
“The character I play is quite opposite to who I am. She is a calm, submissive and shy character. I had to prepare for it, the way I looked. I knew the script and my lines, but we were kept in the dark about what the story was. Until we watched it, we didn’t know,” she said.
“We knew the scenes, but we couldn’t assume what was happening in the story. When it came together, it was new experience for us to watch. We signed the contract for six months; we were called as per the scene. So, we had to go to different locations. I was a secret friend of the character, Pari, and everyone appreciated to see a local face in the series”.
Sushmita was also flown to Mumbai for many of the shoots.