Once upon a time, eons back Doordarshan used to show 30 minute short stories and one of them was about an eccentric painter who wanted to paint a masterpiece.This he does on a stormy night when a severely ill young girl wagers her life on the last leaf on a plant outside her bedroom window not getting blown away.The painter paints a leaf which keeps her alive through the crucial night and perishes in the process.His masterpiece has saved a life.This was based on O’Henrys’ short story “The Last Leaf”.But that 30 minute treatment was a better idea than a full length Bollywood film.Consequently Lootera feels bloated and overwrought.
Varun( Ranveer Singh) is a young handsome archeologist who arrives at the home of the Zamindar( Barun Chanda) of Manikpur, West Bengal who dotes on his daughter Pakhi (Sonakshi Sinha).He wants to dig around the the old family temple in search of a lost civilization.They fall in love but Vinay hides a secret which means their romance will be severely tested.If you have read the original short story you may know how it ends but the whole set up and the middle act is the handiwork of the writers.
Its O’ Henry inspiration aside, Lootera is a brave approach to Bollywood cinema which
tries to reinvent the classic musical romantic tragedy genre by infusing some western art house sensibilities.There is a little Kim-Ki Duc, a little Wong Kar Wai and a little Krzysztof Kieslowski in there (and many others, I mention these three names to illustrate my point).Ergo, the film is full of meticulous compositions not usually seen in Bollywood, rendered with arresting cinematography making it a beautifully crafted film.In a way it reminded me of the cinema of Rituparno Ghosh who had the gift of embellishing his cinema even at the expanse of his characters.That we do not feel any kinship with either Pakhi or Vinay is the biggest weakness of Lootera. Despite its compact runtime of 142 minutes which is short for a Bollywood musical romance, the film sags under its visual heavy strategy.
Lootera’s attention to detail is exhilarating, it successfully invokes nostalgia for a bygone era, even if it is on the worn crutches of Bengali Zamindar’s speaking Hindali (Hindi+Bengali peppered with English spoken with a stiff upper lip).The music (already facing plagiarism charges), is good but its charm wanes with overuse in the second half as the director piles on a second song within a sequence.Good restrained performances from the leads are the real surprise here given their Band Baja Baarat and Dabangg launch vehicles.But too much of a good thing is bad especially when you have so many songs playing in the background.Both Adil Hussain and Arif Zakaria are completely wasted in underwritten parts. Vikrant Massey is charming and energetic as Vinay’s alter ego.
Lootera is part of the movement in Bollywood to set traditional stories in new settings satisfying the upper class multiplex audiences for the some earthy dialogue or period nostalgia.The use of the 60s period is a mere contrivance, Lootera in the final analysis is the story of a failed romance between a conman and a rich girl that must end in tragedy.Its thrilling elements are not thrilling enough, its Romantic elements are not romantic enough and its tragic elements are not tragic enough. It may appeal to a thin cross section of audience that crave for art house cinema but are not exposed to it.The core Bollywood audience is likely to reject it as well the cinema literate cineastes.