The slow-paced, gentle lyrical film coming in the midst of a cacophony of cinema, Lootera raises the hopes of discerning moviegoers. Of course, the Gen Y which thrives on modern dance forms, loud music, psychedelic lights, etc. may find the pace of this film a tad slow. But if they muster just enough patience, they too are likely to be floored by a different type of a film made by a 30-plus film-maker.
Director Vikramaditya Motwane who debuted with Uraan (2010) and won several accolades has taken immense risks making a film like Lootera. But his noble effort has paid off: the Monday crowd that flocked the theatre in a Mumbai multiplex on a rainy afternoon sat through the film. The film looks and sounds muted — for one can literally hear the silence. Motwane gambled by casting Sonakshi Sinha (Pakhi) known for her vacant expression and awkward smile and Ranveer Singh (Varun), branded as the brash and loud Punjabi munda. In Lootera, the duo play the exact opposites of their image.
In fact in one of her post-release interviews, Sonakshi said, “I was warned by many against doing the period film so early in my career.” Lootera to Sonakshi is likely to be what film Paa was to Vidya Balan. Vidya played mother to Amitabh Bachchan. Ditto for Ranveer Singh. The film shows that with an appearance that combines the charms of Dev Anand and James Dean, he can act in a restrained manner and speak with his eyes.
The film is inspired by O’Henry’s short story The Last Leaf — a girl assailed by thoughts of dying and a man painting his first and last painting of a leaf to keep her spirits high. The film is set in the days of rich, aristocratic Bengal zamindars (landlords) of 1953 and Dalhousie of 1954 (the years India faced a lot of turmoil and upheaval). Zamindari was abolished resulting in several landlords facing a severe lifestyle change.
Pakhi, a graduate of Shantikentan, a university known for grace, gentleness, peace, art and culture, is the adoring daughter of a landlord played excellently by Bengal actor Barun Chanda (Satyajit Ray’s Seemabaddha fame). He refuses to believe that there is any threat to his zamindari though he is repeatedly warned by his Man Friday. The father-daughter duo stay in a palatial mansion enjoying leisurely days reciting poetry, watching plays staged in their courtyard and taking walks in the vast garden.
In comes the archeologist Varun with a letter from Archaeological Society of India, along with friend Devdas (Vikrant Massey actor of TV serials Balika Vadhu, Dharm Veer and currently playing Ayan in Qubool Hai). Vikrant too is a revelation. The suave Varun mouthing Bengali poetry impresses the zamindar and is invited to stay with them while he surreptitiously takes note of the rich artifacts acquired over the decades by the family.
The feisty Pakhi falls in love with the archaeologist while teaching him how to paint so that before his death, he can do at least one masterpiece surrounded in the cool climes of the Himalayas. With the title Lootera, the audience doesn’t need to rake their brains about the film’s apparent direction.
Post-interval, the film shifts to Dalhousie, showing the stark difference in the feisty, bold, dreamy-eyed Calcutta’s Pakhi to Dalhousie’s sad, brooding, outraged, solitary soul now a TB patient, reminiscing of all the things gone wrong by trusting one man. In quite extraordinary circumstances, Varun unknowingly comes to stay once again in Pakhi’s guest house.
Music by Amit Trivedi and lyrics by Amitabh Bhattacharya add to the charm of the film. Even playback singers Monali Thakur, Mohan Kannan, Bhattacharya and Swananda Kirkire add a touch of novelty to the theme set in early ’50s. And the icing on the cake comes from cinematographer Mahendra Shetty. The rural background of Calcutta looks ethereally beautiful and so does the snow-covered Dalhousie. The grainy appearance adds a last century charm.
Minor flaws like Pakhi, an asthmatic being administered an injection while she gets an attack or a seriously wounded Varun walking in the knee-high snow covered with only a jacket doesn’t take away the charms of the film. At times one is unable to even catch the almost inaudible dialogues. No doubt the actors are talking in hushed voice, but so low that you miss several verbal discourses between them. Still, go for Lootera for the experience and to keep faith in the young Turks of Bollywood.