What if it is also the one thing that can destroy you? Reeks of love. Yes. The kind of love a thief would feel for a princess? And the kind of love the princess feels for the thief? Yes to both.
Lootera, a name that at first glance didn’t seem like some thing I would want to watch. However, a more appropriately named movie has not been casted in a long while.
Of all the subtly powerful character Indian cinema has ever seen, those not played by Sanjeev Kapoor, Guru Dutt, in the recent past Naseeruddin Shah, Anupam Kher have not been played. If I had been asked who was most likely to play one in a lead role, in this generation, I would probably have said Hrithik Roshan, the only actor whose good looks sort of curb his acting. He is too good looking to be a simple thief. Or Ranbir Kapoor, who did a good semblance of a heartbroken rock star. or Saif, whose recent characters can only be overlooked in the wake of Omkara and some parts of Parineeta. I would not have said Ranveer Singh, not in a million years, although I quite enjoyed Band Baaja Baraat and mores the pity for me to typecast him. I stand corrected and will try never to typecast again, even though he is likely to be a true exception.
Varun Shrivastav, the con man is played to the absolute perfection possible by Ranveer Singh. Every nuance of a character that grows up acquiring all the needed skills for conning powerful men in that age of kings and zamindars, is visible in the body language and his face is a mask through which his true self plays hide and seek. His real proclivity for poetry and art, while being under the shadow of a dishonest life and a dubious uncle,( who he still feels indebted towards )shines through his endearing smiles. He is good at conning and not particularly proud or happy about it, every look, gesture and movement portrays parts of that. The character and the actor never loses sight of who he is or who he would like to be. Whether in the contained humor and charm, knowing he can be as manipulative as he likes and get away with it and still not giving in to the urge of being that low and that powerful.
His appreciation of Pakhi is also as encumbered, only given away by a few smiles and inadvertent, uncontrollable emotions in his eyes. He naturally accepts her as a good writer and expects her to be able to paint, never having been a chauvinist, only a thief. He never does anything overt to attract or seduce her, aware of his boundaries, but cannot resist taking some happiness out of their attraction.
Here is where the story needed the setting it had, only in the Bengali culture were women educated and some pampered ones allowed to have the dream of their own career, in the late 1940s. And that too, only a daughter of a zamindar or a king could hope to be allowed to do as she pleases, take lessons alone with a young man, drive a car. Have a mind of her own. Progressive zamindars were probably restricted to Bengal.
Sonakshi’s Pakhi is a strong-minded, independent girl, so ahead of her time that she can devise ways to spend time with a man she thinks she may like. Burns his hand without regret, just to get even with him and other than her instinct, does not need corroboration of any kind, of his devotion to her. Sonakshi plays it well and realistically, her character is intricately developed and portrayed beautifully. Being born up in a pedestal, as only a princess can be, her pride gets hurt before her heart. Even so, she cannot resist to do anything to make him stay, not fearing another rejection. She is the idealistic vulnerable girl, a self -effacing thief will have no choice but to love.
While Ranveer’s Varun is perfect, Pakhi is commendable and the story could only have been a success if their love was indubitable on screen. After all, that is why love stories rarely work, we just don’t feel it. (I hardly felt a stir between Ranbir and whatshername, in Rockstar, which is why the heartbreak he feels remains mysterious in origin.) But this one does, the director led chemistry leaps out of screen. You can feel the depth of their emotion. It engulfs you and had me transported in a capsule to a world and time, where they lived. The pond by which they sat, as she expects him to show a physical reaction to what she thinks is an enticing statement. At Varun’s withdrawal, she is more annoyed and confused than hurt, as she doesn’t understand it. And I can feel his restraint and control. Even when he tried to pretend to know painting well enough to teach her, he is clearly nervous and acts as if pulled against his better judgement and meditates towards what he would like to learn himself. His innocence, despite being a con man, is visible when he says that ‘ nature ko canvas pe utarna bohot asaan hai” (it is easy to paint nature on canvas) and more so, when Pakhi says she cannot draw leaves ( which are indeed, hard to draw for a novice), his relief at being asked to show something so simple, belies his innocence and his hope to impress her. Painting leaves is not that easy, he finds out for himself!
His need for her love, to hear her say it in his room, is palpable. Even when he had shuttered his eyes into blankness on being confronted by Pakhi earlier, who accuses him of making a play of her, the strain on his conscience is visible.
His capacity to give the tenderness that he has never received, is portrayed beautifully, because Pakhi expects to be taken care of and can love truly with her guileless heart, but like most adored for people, has a hard time showing the same tenderness and caring to others. After all, it is like a birthright to her. She never asks him where he was shot or if he was hurt, when he is fleeing from the police.
The sweet friend who often acts as a floating subconscious around Varun- Devdas, played by Vikrant Massey, is also very well enacted, and a well developed character, his love of music and films, perception and true friendship. The only thing either he or Varun actually have is their mutual trust and friendship and moments of playfulness.
The screenplay, art direction deserves accolades for the culmination of a real love story, one in which the only right thing the thief did was not to remain with his beloved. Even when he had a chance, his only chance of a life, he let it go. He left her not only because he felt indebted to his uncle but so that she could have a life she deserved, not one he could give her.
Then, he gives up his final chance of escape and of being counted amongst the living, to free her of her self imposed prison. Of the grief he had not anticipated would cause so much damage to such a high-spirited girl. He had misjudged her depth of feelings and makes amends, looked after her when she had no one, endured her hatred and anger in the Dalhousie cottage she has decided to maker her coffin. And brought to conclusion, the only right thing he ever did in his life.
The story ties itself along leaves, a leaf that Varun is unable to paint on canvas, his unlikely dream of making a masterpiece, the same imperfect leaves that finally set Pakhi and him free. Free to relish in their love, not despair, together in that joy.
Vikramaditya Motwane is a magician. He is god and we are lucky that he wasn’t born to Hollywood. He is what we credit Bhansali to be ( according to me, not that Bhansali’s grandeur is not eye catching). He can take an understated story to unbeknownst heights. Write screenplay (with excellent help from Anurag Kashyap in dialogue and Bhavani Iyer). Interweaving the period specifics of people’s joy and intermingling of daily activities with radio and film music, the changing government acts, lives of the ‘ruling class’ and their outlook and traditions, perhaps the less autocratic of them. Even the affected British accent, that the two con men use sometimes. The music adds the final touch, adding depth and never taking the focus off the story.
While watching the movie (again and again, which I am sure some of you will), if you find a soul hovering around the tree that Varun stands below and speaks his heart out through his eyes, of his sorrow and incompleteness without Pakhi and his bottomless regret. Of his real pleasure in taking care of her and her, finally forgiving the most unforgivable. If you see me there, it is because I am. Or in the shadows of the Haveli’s guest room.
And that is why I have written the first pure movie review. Ranveer Singh, you I crown the next deserving king, for decades. Kemon boka.. Monta re ..
Vikramaditya Motwane is such an underrated and less talked about genius. Kashyap and Bharadwaj and the like are praised, and not without reason (I would probably swear by Kashyap, and never look elsewhere in a million years), but Motwane is a sort of intricate delicacy whose aftertaste lingers on for longer than one would think. Udaan blew my mind away, simply because I had no idea what to expect. Lootera was different, because I went in expecting an Udaan-esque blowing off. Instead, my heart sank, and I sank, deep into the badly cushioned seat of the theater in Kolkata. I couldn’t lift myself up because this was not Udaan, this was not the story of survival against the odds – this was cheerily haunting, right from Amit Trivedi’s soundtrack, to Pakhi’s gullibility, to Varun’s guilt ; this was about love found, lost, recovered and reclaimed against all hope, and lost again. The Dalhousie cottage serves as the prefect setting to the endless love that is to endure, and Motwane does nothing wrong. The fact that Ranveer Singh (yes to me he was capable of only a Band, Baaja, Baraat) can pull of a Varun Shrivastav is proof enough that there is still hope; for him, for Bollywood, for us, for cinema, for art.
It’s funny this movie has been so largely overlooked. Probably the last fluttering leaf means nothing to most men nowadays.
Thanks Neil! I really think Ranveer Singh rose against all odds and has kept his promise (somewhat). I am always afraid of writing too much, but I still do, even though I don’t think I wrote everything I would have liked to for this review. And you just said a lot of that in your comment. Now its whole.