A thief with a heartache. A girl, smitten and ailing. A time, only left for storybooks and cinema.
There’s a sense of subliminal aesthetic familiarity when “Lootera” opens in the newly partitioned India of 1953. The unhurried ambiance of the olden days, the sureness of the camera’s frame, the undiluted subtlety of the narrative – and decisively – the itching gut feel that it’s not going to work out well in the end.
However, unlike Bollywood’s in-vogue flair for doomed romances and distanced youths, there’s an immaculate sense of conclusion in director Vikramaditya Motwane’s two-act story, the latter half of which is a partial adaptation of O. Henry’s short “The Last Leaf”. The first act (or the pre-intermission half), though, written by Mr. Motwane and Bhawani Iyer, focuses on grounding the characters for their later pitfall; and no, I am not giving anything away other than what the title literally gives away itself.
The days are before the Zamindari Abolition Act kicked in high-gear. Varun (Ranvir Singh), an archeologist with an excavation letter from the Archeological Society of India, arrives on the outskirts of a village and nearly gets run over by an “amateur (ahem female) driver”. The girl, impressionable and instantaneously smitten is Pakhi (Sonakshi Sinha), the village Zamindar’s (Barun Chanda) daughter suffering from what later turns out to be tuberculosis.
Varun, and fellow associate Devdas (Vikrant Massey) – ironically inspired by Dev Anand and not Dilip Kumar – dig around for artifacts, as Pakhi finds ways to get close to Varun. By the time the instantly hummable, and vintage-recognizable song “Sawaar Loon” (performed by Monali Thakur), graces the screen, she’s already teaching him to paint leaves – an apparent citation to the film’s conclusion.
Mr. Singh, who does double duty of the term ‘lootera’ (meaning: robber), is often weighed down by the simple pressure of his role as a restrained and cultured youth whose minimalism in his wardrobe tells you exactly about the kind of man he is – inside and out.
Mr. Singh, by his third film, is mature enough to understand that his Varun is a comprehensive and complex mix of quandaries – the texture of which he is quick to communicate with his expressions; his voice, though, unsure and faint (in ways of complementing his character), is amateurish.
Ms. Sinha, in contrast, is an inspiration. Her Pakhi, impeccant, imperfect and immature, grows with Lootera’s running time into a woman without a long-term agenda (remember it’s the 50’s, people had simpler ways of existences then).
Mr. Motwane who last wrote and directed “Udaan”, and Ms. Iyer – a former editor of Star Dust magazine and a writing cohort of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s twice-pinnacled “Black” and “Guzaarish” – import and trade the right emotional balance between both Pakhi and Varun, desisting the film’s tendency to overflow into theatrics.
Mr. Motwane’s pragmatic and unruffled take on the characters and the film’s gist of time, space and belonging, is practically maverick-level, right down to the inclusion of Amit Trivedi’s music and songs, “Ankahee”, “Shikayatein”, “Monta Re”, “Zinda” and “Manmarziyan”, which are seamlessly embroidered within the narrative.
For me, a director’s sense of cognizance shows when he knows how to ramp-up his film just when it starts to lag; “Lootera”, near its own boundaries of excellence, dawdles in a few scenes in both acts – and that is exactly the time when Mr. Motwane picks up the slack.
In related context, Ms. Iyer’s very “Bhansali” flow of the story is perhaps the very first thing that hits you in the face. However, branding “Lootera” a “Bhansali-like” film is an insult to its individuality and intelligence – much like stamping it with an “art-house” label or something. This is a “film”. Appreciate it without the tags of commercialism (or lack of), or art, or new Bollywood (which I know it is).
Released by Balaji Films, Eros and IMGC Global.
Directed by Vikramaditya Motwane; Written by Bhavani Iyer, Mr. Motwane, with dialogues by Anurag Kashyap (inspired by O. Henry's "The Last Leaf"); Produced by Vikas Bahl, Ekta Kapoor, Shoba Kapoor, Mr. Kashyap with Co-Producer Tanuj Garg and Associate Producer Ranjan Singh and Executive Producer Dipa Motwane. Cinematography by Mahendra Shetty with Editing by Dipika Kalra; Music by Amit Trivedi and Lyrics by Amitabh Bhattacharya.
Starring: Ranveer Singh, Sonakshi Sinha, Barun Chanda, Vikrant Massey, Arif Zakaria, Adil Hussain, Divya Dutta and Shirin Guha.
“Lootera” is rated U/A for brief sensuality, a few rounds of gunfire and a bullet hole in the belly.