Sometime, the biggest quandary as a reviewer is to decide whether to judge the film solely on its objective or based on expectation as an audience member. In an age where movies are getting crisper and brisker to ensure they don’t lose grip over the viewers’ attention, “Lootera” is a leisurely paced film that definitely rises above the mundane as a film but seriously lacks the entertainment factor desired by many a moviegoer. Inspired by O. Henry’s “The Last Leaf”, Vikramaditya Motwane’s period drama “Lootera” narrates the tale of two star-crossed lovers – amalgamating romance with heartbreak, betrayal and redemption.
1953! In the autumn years of the zamindari regime, local landlord of Manikpur (West Bengal) – Roy Chowdhury (Barun Chanda) stays in his ancestral mansion along with his only daughter Pakhi (Sonakshi Sinha). Though afflicted by an apparent asthmatic problem, Pakhi is an impish, free-spirited girl who has basked in the glory of her family’s wealth and reputation. Enters a young, good-looking thief disguised as archaeologist – Varun (Ranveer Singh), along with his accomplice Devdas (Vikrant Massey), to steal the ancient idol in the temple grounds of the zamindar! Deceived by the suave Varun, the zamindar buys his spurious proposal to excavate the temple grounds in quest of ancient treasure, and permits the latter to set up his camp on the same. In fact, the zamindar even opens up a room in his house for the visitor. In the meanwhile, Pakhi who had met Varun through a street accident and whom she teaches how to paint, loses her heart to the young man. As Varun and Devdas move closer to their objective, Varun also finds himself gradually drawn to the beautiful yet vulnerable Pakhi. Torn between the pangs of his heart and the stealthy motive that brought him to Manikpur, Varun makes a decision that takes him away from the happy home he dreamt of. Sometime later, when Varun lands in Dalhousie for his next big heist, his fate brings him back in touch with Pakhi as their destinies collide to give their relation the closure it was bereft of, in their previous encounter. In the meanwhile, a local police inspector K N Singh (Adil Hussain) is tipped off about Varun’s arrival in Dalhousie, and the cop decides to eliminate the thief in order to stop him from plundering other families.
Vikramaditya Motwane enriches the film with a lot of aesthetics and, like his ex-mentor Sanjay Leela Bhansali, captures the film through painting like frames. Sufficient credit must be accorded to the cinematographer Mahendra Shetty for the brilliant use of colours – right from the warm tinge for rural Bengal to the steely blue for frosty Dalhousie. Some of the panorama shots of Dalhousie are breathtaking, though one wonders why some of the night sequences are so underlit that they look grainy on screen. Special mention to the way the significant tree and the shedding of leaves are captured. And I guess, this is where I must applause Aditya Kanwar’s production design which is truly impeccable. Whether it’s the tree in question, the palatial courtyard of the zamindar, the grounds on which Varun and Dev set up their purported archaeological camp, Kanwar doesn’t get a note wrong.
Amit Trivedi’s music adds a lot of depth to the film. And though the songs have already garnered quite a popularity, it’s an additional delight to see them on screen. The only song that seems out of place is Shikayaatein, and though the tune had rendered the trailer a special quality, it does not fit the proceedings of the film and seems a bit forced.
Unlike Motwane’s debut film ‘Udaan’ which was a low-key affair, ‘Lootera’ is a much bigger deal, and the filmmaker entrusted renowned faces to portray the protagonists. Given the fact that ‘Lootera’ is a love-story, it is of no surprise that the film belongs to the lead pair – the young and upcoming actors Ranveer Singh and Sonakshi Sinha. But before I come to their performance, let me mention the others who render support. Arif Zakaria is barely there. Divya Dutta plays a cameo, and one wonders why she took up a role as inconsequential as that. She is an absolute waste. Though the trailers and marketing campaign promoted Adil Hussein’s character as a major one, the role is pretty average and Hussein doesn’t do any wonder either. He is so monotonous in his diction and expressions that he makes you cringe after a point of time. His Sherlock Holmes costume in the climax is hilarious. However, the two other supporting characters leave sufficient impact – almost stealing a few scenes from the protagonists. Barun Chanda, as the pompous yet vulnerable zamindar who cannot accept the decadence of his control over his fiefdom, is astounding. In one of the previous reels and precious moments of the film, Chanda narrates a fable to his daughter and one cannot help but get drawn into the narration. In another scene, where he realises that he has been deceived by the man whom he had accepted as his daughter’s suitor, and the way he runs across the field to discover the tunnel of betrayal, he excels and just melts your heart. The other actor who leaves a solid impact is Vikrant Massey as Devdas – Varun’s accomplice and best friend. Though the culmination of the character is a tad contrived, the popular television actor breathes in amazing earnestness to his part – a guy with a noble heart but pragmatic decisiveness. Whether as the jocular sidekick, the prudent advisor or the silent observer, Massey brings in adequate depth to his role.
Lootera is litmus test for Ranveer and Sonakshi. While he plays a much more toned down character than what he has played earlier or what he actually is, she has a meatier role than all her previous films combined. You can ascribe it to the period setting that Sonakshi, with her very classical beauty, rises up to the occasion while Ranveer struggles to find his foothold in a lot of scenes. Sonakshi’s ‘Pakhi’ is truly lovable in the earnestness of confessing her love and her frail health does make your heart go out for her. On the other hand, as the subdued suave thief falling in love, Ranveer looks sadly miscast in a few portions, but it’s the second half where he grips the character and proves that the rawness of emotions is his forte. The scene where he takes out the bullet or climbs the tree, he is brilliant.
Above all, Lootera is Vikramaditya’s film – and you need no proof that the man has put his heart and soul to the film. There are quite a few portions where he shows his skill as a filmmaker – especially the silent altercation sequence where Varun coerces Pakhi to inject the medicine bears the stamp of a filmmaker’s boldness and novelty. However, unlike Udaan, the novel moments are few and far between. Having said that, I must mention that the lack of novelty is not the biggest drawback of Lootera. Neither is the fact that for a discerning viewer, the movie is very predictable. ‘Lootera’ is more about the feeling of selfless love, the pangs of solitude and the nostalgia for the innocence. To be honest, the film does achieve fair bit of it.
One must appreciate the fact that Motwane didn’t want to commercialise the film for the sake of it. Right from the simple opening titles, with white text on black background, he sets the mood of the film right and maintains the same throughout. The scenes are prolonged and there is adequate breathing space for every character. However, problem surfaces from two corners – a) the film gets painfully slow in places and you just want to move on to the next episode and the bigger problem b) it doesn’t make you (or at least me) feel as sorry for the protagonists as you would want to.
Majority of the classics are leisurely paced and rich in details – one cannot imagine a brisker version of ‘The Shawshank Redemption’, ‘Schindler’s List’ or ‘Swades’ but these films had enough material in hand and details to highlight, which Lootera being a love-story obviously falls short of. While it may surely gain plaudits from the intelligentsia, the popcorn munching audience’s reaction remains dubious to me. On the whole, ‘Lootera’s is a good film with the director intending to paint his masterpiece (as the protagonist says in a couple of scenes) but falls short of being great.
My rating would be a generous 3.5 out of 5.
PS: The review is purely my opinion and though I tried to be as objective as possible, it’s bound to be coloured by my aesthetic sensibility.