If there is one thing to be said about Vikramaditya Motwane’s craft, it is that he makes melancholy look beautiful. In his debut film “Udaan”, and now in “Lootera”, the filmmaker depicts angst-ridden and tormented characters and creates the perfect environment for them. The lighting is muted, the setting is an isolated house, the music is haunting and you cannot help but feel as tormented as the characters in the film.
Motwane is undoubtedly one of the few Indian directors who has mastery over the craft of filmmaking. Everything in “Lootera”, the detailing, sound design and pretty much every aspect is picture perfect. From a small village in the Bengali countryside in the first half to the quaint hill station of Dalhousie for the more sombre part of the movie, Motwane chooses his locations well.
But “Lootera” is one of those films where the way the story is told is given more importance than the story itself. An adaptation of O Henry’s “The Last Leaf”, Motwane and co-writer Bhavani Iyer build on it and the film is set in an upper-class Bengali household in the 1950s.
Pakhi (Sonakshi Sinha) is the pampered and privileged daughter of a wealthy landowner in a Bengal village. She spends her days dressing up, learning to drive and bossing around her servants. Enter Varun (Ranveer Singh), a young man who says he’s an archaeologist and wants to excavate part of her father’s land in the hope of discovering the remains of an ancient civilisation.
Over stolen looks at the dining table, painting lessons and whispered conversations, the two fall in love, but by then it is obvious that Varun is not who he says he is. There is betrayal and Pakhi loses everything that was once dear to her. When the two meet again, several years later, she is a changed woman but he, seemingly, has not changed.
For a film that has so much going for it, Lootera’s weak link is that the two lead actors seem to share no chemistry. The build-up to their supposedly passionate love affair is subdued and you never get the feeling that Varun is as torn as he is shown to be. The “Last Leaf” reference also seems forced and not emphasised enough through the film.
The story is not as strong as it should be and there are moments where the motives of both Pakhi and Varun are unexpected and unexplained.
Usually, a film with a weak story would be a weak, film, but “Lootera” is far from it. It is a beautifully made, beautifully shot (by Mahendra Shetty) film and one of the few movies where it would make sense to go with the look of the film, rather than its content.
Sonakshi Sinha as Pakhi is a revelation – she is coy and conflicted in equal measure and slips into her character with consummate ease. If she goes back to gyrating to crass item songs in “commercial films”, it’ll be her loss as well as ours. Ranveer Singh takes time to get into the skin of Varun, but once he does, he does it with panache.
“Lootera” is an unusual film in many ways – it relies heavily on silences, there is not much melodrama, the pace is languid, and there is an old-world charm rarely explored in Bollywood films. Go armed with patience for this one, but do go. “Lootera” deserves to be watched, in spite of what might be missing.