Lootera is Vikramaditya Motwane’s follow up to his highly acclaimed debut film, Udaan, and takes the essence of O Henry’s short story, The Last Leaf, as its inspiration. One has to concede that Motwane gives it an original and even interesting (at least on paper) interpretation of his own with much of the film being a back story set between Manikpur in Bengal and Dalhousie in the 1953-54 period till the O Henry tale kicks in, in the second half.
In Motwane’s tale, set in 1953, Varun Shrivastav (Ranveer Singh), an archaeologist, comes to the village of Manikpur in West Bengal. With knowledge and experience beyond his young demeanour, Varun greatly impresses the Zamindar and his family. Especially Pakhi (Sonakshi Sinha), the Zamindar’s feisty and only daughter, who finds herself irrevocably drawn towards him. But Varun isn’t all he seems on the surface. And as the simmering attraction between him and Pakhi leads to a tender and deep love, he is forced to choose between her and his past…
The back story of Lootera is still the better part of the film and works well enough in parts. The first half of the film with Varun’s entry into Pakhi’s life, and the delicate treatment of their developing romance at a gentle, languid pace with looks, glances, touches, whispers and silences does have its moments largely due to Sonakshi Sinha’s fine handling of these scenes even if there is little chemistry between her and Ranveer. Through the course of the film, Motwane helps us to get into her mind visually as well by contrasting the picture postcard beauty of Manikpur against the depressing, gloomy, harsh snowy winter of Dalhousie, post Varun’s betrayal. The nod to the 50s is in place and the film succeeds in creating an old world charm with the clothes, the props, the backdrops of events of the era like the abolishment of the Zamindari system, the references to Dev Anand, Baazi, Patita and… you even have the investigating police officer called KN Singh!
But what surprisingly fails Lootera is its writing. And for all the reasonably good detailing in the production design and costumes, the script seems to be one of superficial convenience and contrivance that is plateau-like with few ups and downs and derails totally by the time we get into The Last Leaf. The O Henry tale cause and effect is clumsily inserted in the earlier part with the tale of the Bhil King and the unsubtle painting of the leaves scene, so when The Last Leaf does take off, you cannot help but feel it has negated much of what it has taken to get there, both story wise and in its treatment. Here, once Varun and Pakhi come together, the film appears totally lost and flounders badly especially on a psychological plane as we see Varun try to redeem himself in Pakhi’s eyes. Both Ranveer and Sonakshi too appear confused here in their performances. It is as if the complexities of the inherent situation are beyond their understanding and capabilities as actors. And by now the film is in totally disengaging territory. Also, O Henry’s tale works because of the beautiful final twist but the treatment here is highly predictable as all the cards have already been laid out much, much earlier.
From a team that is expected to give you sensitive, sensible filmmaking, sometimes you are just befuddled at some of the illogicalities that you would see in typical Bollywood commercial fare unfolding on screen. *SPOILERS HERE* If the idol is kept secure with just an old, rusty paddle-lock and key, and that too in a temple that is not guarded or secure otherwise, what’s the point of digging for days to reach it? Ah, but then Varun wouldn’t meet Pakhi would he? The same Pakhi, who can’t drive and bangs into him so they can meet and two scenes later, after getting him looked at by the doctor, drives back home like a pro. Twine is already tied on the branch when Varun goes up the tree to tie the leaf (not removed from an earlier take?), a sequence which is stereotypical herogiri – with him climbing the tree with bullet wound almost falling, pulling himself up etc et etc – at its worst. It is totally at odds with rest of the film. And to make it even worse, in the next scene, Ranveer gets up after as if nothing has happened to him.
Ranveer’s mumbly and wooden act is another weak point. His outbursts too in the last act just show that he was used correctly in Band Baaja Baaraat and still has many miles to go as an actor. In fact, a motley group of collegians, mostly girls, in the audience, after initially going, “How cute!”, could not stop their constant acidic barbs at Ranveer Singh’s poor act and actually clapped in obvious relief when he was shot down at the end by the cops.
Sonakshi Sinha, it has to be said, comes off much better. She handles the falling in love portions beautifully and looks radiant in the Manikpur portions, but she too seems out of depth in the more intense scenes later. Barun Chanda and Divya Dutta in their few scenes show you what seasoned actors they are. Chanda is spot on, both physically but more importantly, psychologically, as the weary Zamindar trying to make sense of the changing India around him and coming to terms with the fact that he is now out-dated, while Dutta makes a strong enough impact in the few scenes she has.
Technically, again surprisingly the film is mixed. The camerawork swings between the beautiful and the poetic to some pretty pedestrian work with basic lighting discontinuity in some scenes. The grains whether by default due to low light conditions or by aesthetic design just end up giving a muddy murky feeling, which had a member of the audience asking her companion,”Yeh Itna Ganda Kyon Dikh Raha Hai?” (Why is this looking so bad?) As mentioned, the production design is by and large spot on but thin lacy curtains in the thick of Dalhousie winter? The songs (Amit Trivedi) are well-composed but barring the nicely picturised Sanwaar Loon, they do not gel with the film as well as they should. And neither does the hugely obtrusive and overambitious background score. The sound design is strange to say the least with the levelling of various tracks appearing to go for a toss as many of the dialogues are drowned by the insistent music.
All in all, the first half notwithstanding, Lootera is highly disappointing. Even more so, considering the talent associated with it.
Hindi, Romance, Drama, Color