August Issue 2013

By | Here and Now | Published 11 years ago

Vikramaditya Motwane’s Lootera is being touted as a film that audiences would either love or hate. However, even its detractors will admit that Motwane’s film is different from the usual Bollywood fare of song and dance.

The film is set in Manikpur, West Bengal in 1953 at a time when India is undergoing rapid transformation; the subcontinent has rid itself of the colonial yoke, but feudalism is still deeply entrenched and zamindars continue to hold on to their wealth and traditional way of life.

It is against this backdrop, that we are introduced to a kind-hearted zamindar (Barun Chanda), who holds a play at his haveli for the entire village. While the event is in progress, Pakhi (Sonakshi Sinha), the zamindar`s vivacious daughter who is a budding writer with a child-like love for stories and playing pranks, suddenly suffers an asthma attack — something we later learn are frequent occurrences. As she recovers, her father tells her a story about a great king whose soul resides inside a parrot, and when the parrot dies, the king dies too. He explains to Pakhi that she is like his parrot, and when anything hurts her, he also suffers. The scene is touching, and there are many such scenes in the film.

While Pakhi is learning to drive — a rarity in those times — she accidentally hits a young motorcyclist, who turns out to be an archaeologist named Varun (Ranveer Singh), commissioned to dig at the zamindar`s lands — believed to house an ancient civilisation. Near the digging site is a 5000-year-old temple with a gold statue of two Hindu gods. Almost immediately, Pakhi develops an infatuation for the mysterious Varun, which soon turns into an obsession. A surprising twist is added to the storyline next and the entire feel of the film suddenly shifts from a romance to a crime thriller that keeps audiences on the edge of their seats.

The entire first half of the film moves at a certain leisurely pace (perhaps, sluggish for some), which reflects the calm of the Bengal countryside. With record players that hum tunes from the ’50s to the bright saris and chunky, gold jewellery Pakhi adorns, the film authentically captures a bygone era. The saffron-tinged landscape may even remind viewers of Pradeep Sarkar`s debut film Parineeta, another period romance set in West Bengal.

More than the script, which is partially inspired by O. Henry`s short story The Last Leaf, it is the superb direction by the relatively new filmmaker that carries the film through. Rarely do we see such subtlety and refined angles in a Bollywood film. From the tea being poured gingerly into a cup to the play of light and shadow on the actors’ faces — every action and glance is beautifully captured.

However, after the intermission, Lootera goes from being a Parineeta to something that looks like a cross between The Notebook and an artsy music video, and it is almost like watching an entirely different film.

While all actors do justice to their roles — with the exception of Singh who, though convincing in the first half of the film, falls short of the mark in the second half — Sonakshi Sinha deserves a special mention for her breathtaking performance.

Lootera’s strong point is that it steers clear of the Bollywood formula.

Zehra Nabi is a graduate student in The Writing Seminars at the Johns Hopkins University. She previously worked at Newsline and The Express Tribune.