My long hibernation from my blog is still on. But I am back to post this guest post by my good friend Arnab. He writes about Vickramaditya Motwane’s latest feature – Lootera. And beware, plenty of spoilers.
Whether you like it or not, you will go in to watch Lootera with O. Henry’s ‘The Last Leaf’ performing background operations in your mind, an unsolicited .exe file you wish weren’t there. Almost everyone has read Henry’s classic short story where Behrman paints ‘his masterpiece’, a leaf to replace the last leaf on a tree that fell one cold, winter night in quaint old Greenwich village. The simplicity of the story almost makes you wonder how its adaptation set in rural Bengal and Dalhousie in the years following decolonisation would work. But as the first reel rolls on, you are transported into a world that is very different from what Henry scripted, a canvas which not only delights your senses but also unconsciously nudges you into a state of temporary amnesia where ‘The Last Leaf’ ceases to matter. The background operations in your mind stop.
Lootera is essentialy the story of Pakhi Roy Choudhury. Played by Sonakshi Sinha, Pakhi is the motherless daughter of a zamindar struggling to hold on to power and glory in a period of political and social transformation. The script accounts for this shift in rural Bengal of the 1950s by planting temporal milestones like the coming of electricity or the shift from traditional forms of entertainment like the ‘jatra’ to projected images on white surface, a staple in the early days of cinema. Pakhi’s childlike wonder at the phenomenon that is the electric bulb captures that precise transformation. The plot takes a turn with the entry of Varun Srivastava, a role essayed by Ranveer Singh. A conman out to steal a priceless family inheritance of the Roy Choudhurys, Varun gains access to the inner quarters of the zamindar using his masquerade of being an archeologist and in the process also gains access into the heart of the zamindar’daughter. What follows is a rather predictable plot of love, deceit and betrayal which kills the zamindar and post interval introduces the audience to a dying Pakhi leading a lonely, cloistered and consumption afflicted life in Dalhousie, trying to forget the love of her life who destroyed everything that was good and beautiful in it. Varun makes a comeback there, is rediscovered by Pakhi through a series of events, and becomes a a source of succour for her as she tries to latch onto him like the proverbial last straw. The plot rapidly concludes towards a karmic climax where Varun is shot dead in what almost comes across as a sacrificial act, too predictably perhaps.
Where Lootera manages to capture your imagination is the articulation of the love between Varun and Pakhi, especially in the post interval phase. Sonakshi Sinha is no Vidya Balan but Lootera is perhaps one of her more substantive performances coming on the back of nauseatingly obnoxious flicks like Rowdy Rathore and the Dabanggs. The self destructive attraction that Pakhi betrays for Varun comes across on screen with tremendous pathos. Ranveer Singh as the conman in believable in life as he is in death. Adil Hussain as Inspector K. P. Singh is methodical, as always. A predictable script and performances that deserve only but a fleeting accolade notwithstanding, what really sets Lootera apart are its music and camera-work. The sound track by Amit Trivedi is haunting to the extent that the background score refuses to leave you alone even after you have hummed your favourite oldies, if only in a futile attempt to get Trivedi’s genius out of your mind. Vikramaditya Motwane clearly has another winner in hand after Udaan and the credit for carrying this movie through lies squarely on his vision and the absolute finesse of his cinematographer Mahendra Shetty. Starting from the bright green and blue vistas of rural Bengal to the grey skies of Dalhousie, the camera of Shetty captures angles and imagines frames which can only be called delightful. Coupled with Amit Trivedi’s score, the audio visual experience that Lootera offers is worth every second of a runtime of roughly 140 minutes. At times when the movie feels like its dragging along, you can just tell yourself that there is a visual treat waiting just round the corner and you will not be disappointed.
The leaf in Henry is transformed into a device for quasi humanitarian conning in Lootera by Motwane. In fact, to come back to what I started with, that is where the similarites between ‘The Last Leaf’ and Lootera end. Motwane, along with Anurag Kashyap and Bhavani Iyer, have created a narrative that uses the last leaf only as a peg on which the larger plot of love and unrequited longing can be accommodated. Like Henry’s Behrman, the leaf is also ‘the masterpiece’ of Varun Srivastava: his last con. It is this con which allows him to take that bullet with a smile, a failed attempt at expiating the guilt that he suffers for what he did to Pakhi, someone he fell in love with. Lootera as a tragic tale of love and longing is ridden with imperfections. But who ever said life, or love, or tragedy for that matter, was perfect. Watch it for everything that it is. It will be a couple of hours well spent.
Arnab Dasgupta survives on a meagre government salary that he earns as his day job while reflecting upon cinema, photography and history as and when he can. He can be contacted on Twitter @arnab822 and on arnab82[at]gmail[dot]com.