Vikramaditya Motwane’s sophomore film Lootera, is a beautiful exercise in the art of restraint. Very few Hindi films use dialogue so sparingly and have mainstream actors that can manage to hold back the histrionics to such great results. It’s the mark of a very skilled director to have such a confident grasp on every detail of the film, ultimately delivering a film with a sweet and heartbreaking romance, palpable 1950s old world charm, and great performances from its entire cast.
One of the reasons Lootera draws you fully into its world is the way Motwane gently and gracefully builds up its setting, characters and their emotions. Nothing is rushed or loud or expository.
So when a rich landlord’s daughter Pakhi (Sonakshi Sinha) is learning how to drive and has an accident with archeologist Varun (Ranveer Singh)’s motorbike, there’s no commotion afterwards or the predictable argument between protagonists who you know will ultimately go from hate to love. Instead, there’s a simple glance at each other, where Pakhi looks apologetic and Varun shaken, as one would be if they just got knocked off the road.The subsequent scenes build up their relationship very gradually. It all feels very relatable, and in that lies one of Motwane’s greatest accomplishments with this film.
Lootera is based on O Henry’s short story ‘The Last Leaf’ and Motwane fleshes out a script around it that he confidently stands by for the most part. The writing is lyrical and, this is rare for much mainstream fare, the film is driven faithfully by its story and script.
The characters of Pakhi and Varun are built up steadily. Pakhi is a girl that has been doted on by her loving father (a brilliantly endearing Barun Chanda) all her life and this is laid out right at the beginning as he comforts her back to health after she has a cough attack. Varun enters their lives with his colleague Debdas (Vikrant Massey, in great form), both archeologists that have arrived to excavate land on Pakhi’s family estate. Varun has a mysterious air about him, though he doesn’t come off as suspicious, especially not to Pakhi.
There are moments of such tenderness between the two leads that any initial reservations about their odd pairing quickly dissolve away. Sinha as Pakhi is a revelation here. For an audience used to seeing her in over-the-top masala films, in Lootera she displays an impressive range of acting, going from naive, bright eyed and at times irrational, evolving into a woman suffering emotionally and physically. Her energy in the first half provides an apt counterbalance to Singh’s very reserved portrayal of Varun initially. Pakhi falls in love much faster than he does, is much more open about her feelings while he tends to not let on so easily.
In one of the film’s most masterfully directed and heartbreaking scenes, Pakhi takes a leap of faith by opening herself up to him in a grand gesture of love, only for Varun to remain silent and not reciprocate. For a girl with such a sheltered upbringing, putting herself out there and then being brought down becomes her first real lesson in the harsh unpredictabilities of life.
In the second half, Pakhi’s energy declines, due to unexpected turns in her life, and Varun in turn begins to display more overt passion. It’s the ultimate yin yang of a relationship that suffers major setbacks, and one that never quite settles into a peaceful bliss for too long.
There are a few narrative fumbles in the second half when the film becomes more about a cops-and-robbers chase. Adil Hussain, as the cop trying to capture Varun, is effective but the genre shift suffers from some awkward transitions and missteps in logic. That said, the two leads remain consistently engaging throughout to pull you back into their teetering relationship.
The music of Lootera deserves much praise. Amit Trivedi, in charge of both the background score and songs here, provides a magical musical accompaniment to the film. Every song is perfect for the situation in which it is used, echoing sentiments the characters are feeling at each step.Especially well placed are the playful ‘Sawaar Loon‘ and the remorseful ‘Shikayatein‘.
Despite the minimal dialogues, the film is ironically a tad too loud. The background score, enchanting for the most part, is sometimes allowed to envelope scenes completely. So, where the actors work so hard to emote through expressions only, the background score often comes in and takes over. But such instances are few and far between, and perhaps more noticeable if you still remember the much more subdued background score of Udaan.
Lootera is jointly produced by Ekta Kapoor’s Balaji Films and Anurag Kashyap’s Phantom. It’s an odd pairing of producers – one known for outlandish masala capers and the other for envelope-pushing alternative cinema. And perhaps it is because of these two extremes that Lootera finds an equilibrium. It’s a film mounted on a grand scale in terms of sumptuous visuals, young stars, subtle commercial touch, but also very realistic characters and an indie film treatment.
Ultimately, Lootera is a triumph for director Vikramaditya Motwane and his two leads Ranveer Singh and Sonakshi Sinha. They carry the film gracefully all the way to a climax you half-expect but are never quite prepared for. Lootera is a beautiful film and deserves to be watched!