Lootera—the Review

40 Comments

{Has spoilers}

Before I start to review “Lootera”, a disclaimer is in order.

Regular readers of the blog would know that I am a Bollywood-outsider. Which means, I have never had any personal connection to anyone in a film that I have reviewed.

Till now. Vikramaditya Motwane, the director of “Lootera”,  is an acquaintance through the blog, and hence what I am going to write, may or may not be influenced by that fact. Too often, I find reviewers in mainstream media not exactly up-front with connections to their subjects (“The director is a friend with whom I have drinks with”, “I am looking to work with the production house that made the film”, “The director rejected my script. Twice” and “the PR took me out to dinner”) and I will be damned if I do the exact same thing. I don’t think my opinion of “Lootera” is influenced by my knowing the director, and those that know me from the blog and on Twitter would know that I don’t hold back on my opinions, no matter how negative, even if the person concerned is a friend. But still this needed to be said. So there.

Now the review.

“Lootera” is gorgeously mounted, every frame is like a painting,  the cinematography/art-direction/lighting/use of music is awesome. Even the bad reviews of “Lootera” say this. Which is why I shall not delve into this any more . Beautifully shot and technically sophisticated movies, by themselves, do not impress me even a bit (and that may be because I do not fully appreciate some aspects, lacking as I do any form of formal training in filmcraft). Which is why I have more or less hated, with a vengeance, most of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s creations, since I have failed to find anything else in them other than this obsession with “Wah kya frame hai”.

“Lootera” though, at least in my opinion, is not merely an action flicker of beautifully lit images. It has, embedded within it,  two fascinating interleaved narratives—the minor and the major.

Let us first deal with the minor. For a “love story” between two individuals, it spends a lot of time on something that on the face of it seems somewhat extraneous— the post-independence dissolution of the zamindari system. But there is a reason for that.

The zamindar, (played with stately elegance by Barun Chanda) and his daughter Pakhi (a surprisingly consummate performance from Sonakshi Sinha) live an anachronistic bubble of feudal indolence which the tumult of independence and Partition seemed to have passed by, a world of elaborate Durga Pujos, pleasure joy-rides in cars over bumpy roads, leisurely days out in the sun and a naive belief that things will always remain the same. They do not. The first shock comes to the zamindar when the government seizes his lands as part of land reform, leaving him in reduced circumstances. And then the bigger shock comes, in a marvelously shot montage, when he discovers that the gentleman he let inside his house , solely based on the trust one classically places in a gentleman, has not only robbed him blind but has also left his daughter, Miss Havisham-like at the altar.  This realization of being stabbed in the back by both country as well as by kin,establishes the emotional basis for the main narrative, which is the  depth of the betrayal felt by the zamindar and his daughter, one of whom consequently dies from the shock while the other becomes a living shadow (One may argue that the zamindar or his ancestors had looted the people and now the people were looting them back but that’s a discussion for another day).

In O Henry’s “Last Leaf”, the motivations of the painter who dies of exposure, painting a fake leaf to give the heroine the will to live are left open to the reader. Is it love? Or is it the desire of the artist to create the greatest masterpiece of them all—-one that changes a life?

In “Lootera”, the answer I believe Motwane comes up with, or this may be my interpretation, is that the act of painting the leaf is the expression of the desire for redemption of a fundamentally flawed human being.

The person known as Varun Srivastava hardly conforms to the archetype of the traditional Hindi film hero. As is established in the first half, he lacks a backbone.  There were a thousand and one honorable things he could have done when Arif Zakaria, the evil uncle, (what a pleasant surprise to see him not chewing scenery) came threatening to expose his true antecedents, but Varun chooses the most cowardly, self-serving, unheroic option of them all—decamping with the loot and leaving the lady behind. When later he encounters Pakhi and witnesses first hand the destruction he has wrought, only then does he “man up” and try to restore, in the only way he can, the most valuable thing he has taken —-her wide-eyed, innocent faith in love and human goodness. In the final, deeply moving scene Pakhi looks up at the leaf, her face iridescent with joy , it is not because she mistakes it to be a real leaf  and hence a signal from above to keep living (the original “Last Leaf”)   but because she recognizes it for what it is—a gesture of repentance and an admission of love.

It’s this progression of the character from a weakling to a hero and the way Varun’s sacrifice is justified and validated that really elevated “Lootera” for me, and to use a phrase I like to use,  made it “greater than the sum of its parts.”

However “Lootera” is not without its problems. For me, it is not the languorous pacing, which I found appropriate and necessary given the theme and the mood. It is not the co-incidence of them meeting, which some found outrageous but then if of all the gin joints , in all the towns in all the worlds, her walking into Rick’s did not seem out of place, why should this? For me, it is not the lack of suspense (doesn’t the title give away the twist?) because not every story needs to have a twist or an A-ha moment.

My first, albeit minor, quibble is ironically where “Lootera” gets an universal thumbs up, its use of music. There was at least one place, where I felt that the song was a bit too contemporary for my liking, too “Rock Star”, too disruptive of the carefully constructed ambiance of the 50s, not of course in the manner of “Aa Aaa Taiyyar Ho Ja” of Asoka of course. But still.

My biggest problem in “Lootera” though is with Ranveer Singh. Someone needs to tell him that being romantic or subtle or suave or soft-spoken or whatever he was trying to be does not imply garbled dialog delivery in a half-whisper- half-whimper. And maybe this is just me, but I felt he just did not look the part, in the way that Sonakshi Sinha did. His well-manicured face and gym-sculpted body might suit him in “Ladies vs Ricky Behl” but here, as a down-on-his-luck petty art-thief from the 50s, he seems as authentic as Mallika Sherawat’s Cannes accent. In most other movies we tend to overlook such things (for instance in Bollywood war movies, none of the heroes look like they have spent a day in the sun, unlike their Hollywood counterparts who often go through boot-camp to get that battle-worn look) but when so much effort has been spent in meticulously crafting an era gone by, this dissonance becomes most jarring.

The shortcomings though fade in front of all that “Lootera” gets right, a deeply moody atmospheric  tale of trust, betrayal, redemption and, of course, love.

Highly recommended.

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40 thoughts on “Lootera—the Review

  1. Now the comment…You seemed to have paid the price of fame…having to abandon your carefree style..and adding disclaimers and clarifications….I could literally visualize you thinking hard before writing each word

  2. i have issues with its end. its protracted, and could have been subtle. Ranveer is ok. the film needed a relatively fresh face, and he did a reasonable job.

    and yes, my ipod !

  3. Yes… Dear Great Bong.. Aah.. that disclaimer slightly sounded like a trick from Chetan Bhagat’s bag distancing him from MoNa darling.. Observations are good..

    shock comes to the zamindar when the government seizes his lands as part of land reform, leaving him in reduced circumstances…….marvelously shot montage, when he discovers that the gentleman he let inside his house ,………… has not only robbed him blind but has also left his daughter, Miss Havisham-like at the altar..

    Seems to have been inspired by both Jalsaghar and the penultimate scene from Charulata…

    I have read 3 reviews (including urs now) by 3 brilliant authors who have the keenest observation but Both Baradwaj Rangan and Abhirup Mascherak have scored in garnering more references which delights readers and viewers of lit and movies of a bygone era..

  4. wow!!! u SHOULD write reviews! this is the first review of Lootera that kept me soooo engrossed! brilliant!

  5. Superb review! Very well written! I personally feel the long para on your friendship/relationship with the director is totally unnecessary. Some of us aren’t cynical and appreciate a good read for what it is. And this piece is certainly a great read. I have to add it’s the first blog of yours that I have read….looking forward to reading more. Keep going!

  6. I have been reading reviews of lootera since it came out. All very good. StrangEly most of my friends don’t like the movie… Was wondering what I need to change. Maybe I need to rethink my relationships.

  7. the first half of the movie was too slow,which made the viewers uninterested.
    i really liked the second half.

    movie theme is inspired by “one day” soundtrack.

    sonakshi sinha was ok, there was much for her in this movie which she couldnt deliver.

    • I don’t think there is much for Sonakshi to do for a person who has TB and basically is shown sick the entire movie, not only due to illness but also due to the death of the father and betrayal of the person who she loved, and marriage not happening. What can a character who goes through so much dire circumstances have, Sonakshi’s character on paper itself has nothing going on in her life due to the emptiness. So Sonakshi delivered that, she need not overact just because a character is suffering from a disease. Most actors will plunge into the character thinking that a character who has disability or disease is an award worthy performance, so they go all out and deliver. Seriously, in reality Sonakshi’s character will be living life as normal and mundane as possible if she knows she’ll die, her father dies, her house where she lived since childhood taken away and basically not experiencing love.

  8. I have been reading your blog now for more than 7 years. It feels sad that you have to add such disclaimers at the start of your blog. You should write what you feel, not with disclaimers. Your honest, long time readers will never judge you. Anyway, brilliant review.

  9. I think Venkatesh Prabhu Kasthuri Raja would have been perfect for the role of “Lootera”. His performance would have been seamless and natural.

  10. For Bollywood actors, the moment they are asked to bare their chest, they need to get a six/eight pack right there. Farhan akhtar spends so much time getting that perfect six pack body when milkha singh probably never had six pack(he is so lean in those pictures). Yet, the obsession with these kind of details while ignoring the reality is what makes it jarring.

  11. Arnab, very good review. One aspect which I specially liked was the fact that there was absolutely no ‘excess’ – no excess melodrama, romance, hatred, tears, villainy etc. Everything, including the acting was subtle and pitch-perfect. This is in contrast to Motwane’s Udaan, where Ronit Roy’s character was too unjustifiably ‘evil’ IMHO.
    I simply loved all the songs in the movie, but would love to hear on which song you felt was too modern?
    On the coincidence of Ranveer walking into Sonakshi’s house in the 2nd half, I thought that was explained in the movie, when the Inspector says that they have asked all other lodges/ hotels in Dalhousie to not take in people, so that Varun walks into the trap in Sonakshi’s guest house! I know its an abnormally long shot, but still… :)

  12. I thought the music was refreshing – it adds a bit of modern twist to the older setting. The background score was not consistent – it was very good at times and was missing at a few places.

    Ranveer was more of a misfit – especially in the second part when it was clear that his physique did not match with regular Indians of that era. and the dialogue delivery as you mentioned….left a lot to be desired…

  13. GB ROFL at the disclaimer.

    Taking ourselves too seriously or are we just trying to put more layers around “I’m so cool, I know a director of a mainstream movie”?

    Wake up dude. You are an excellent writer but you got to be kidding me- declaring conflict of interest (part of a big ticket tendering committee, are we?) as if you are deciding the future of Lootera.

    • Somewhat similar thoughts here. I felt that there is a bit of show-off going here.
      However, I did ‘pause and reflect’.
      If a celebrity reviewer (say a Pritish Nandy) had written similarly, would I have considered it a show off? No. I realized that I may be viewing Arnab similarly as I saw him 6-7 years back (when he was just another blogger).
      To be fair to Arnab, he has really gone places in all these years (come one, he had his photograph splashed across The Hindu). So may be this ‘show off’ is not really that much show-off.

  14. jottosob tappi mara chobi..osob chobi gaater poisa khoroch kora ki manus aa dekhe naki..raat ko ba-ra bajey r din ko vodor naache..jottosob mamdobajir golpoo

  15. atyvan is a thoroughbred Ma-Maati-Maanush ! Chhhobi dekaar ki proyojon, chomkaaitolaay aachaar baniye chhomke daao !

  16. I am glad you added the disclaimer although it wasn’t necessary. I am tired of bloggers praising their fellow blogger’s (or internet acquaintance’s) latest new release when you *know* that book is barely above trash. Very mindless, cliquish behavior.

    I do think it was unnecessary as all the reviews of Lootera seem to be in agreement with you-that despite a few flaws, it is quite eminently watchable. I hope to be able to Netflix it in the near future.

  17. I don’t see a reference in Lootera reviews to a possible ‘Oliver Twist’ connection – askin to the hold Fagin had on his gang of urchins; Arif did a good job (with not a whole lot of dialogue) without having to resort to overt hamming.
    Aside – apart from the obvious artistic frames, I loved the background score.

  18. One thing i found incongruous, did they have direct dial facility in dalhousie way back in 1954? what i know of is lot of these places had to go through an operator to get connected. direct dial started in 70′s at most places. especially when they show electricity arriving in their bengal household in 1953.

  19. Finally watched it. Serious, unbiased opinion: you would love it if you stay awake through it. It drags at points – drags enough to bore the average viewer.

    The slow pace may be a tool used to represent the era, but there is a thin line between slowing the pace down and dragging.

    I agree with you on Ranveer as well. Having said that I think it’s a beautiful movie.

  20. you certainly tickle and pick the brains of the reader in their knowledge of cinema as such !Rick etc.Very self consciously written.Not humble anywhere but conceitedly eggs the reader to raise eyebrows in awe at your erudition …
    I loved ranbir and tolerated Sonakshi. But, to each his taste i guess ! Quite a twist and darkly narrated. Though, the second half was such a stretch……
    You write well, Bong ! have faith in well meaning readers enjoy and compliment without fear or favor !

  21. How could you not find its pacing laborious. Loved the movie especially the interval scene but in the end, just wanted it to end…

  22. The day I watched Lootera, I experienced a bad mood swing, from happy to sad, missing my ex. Pheww.. But I loved the movie. It carried a subtle message – do not go by the face value of something.

    Nice review, the signal to keep living has been put out so appropriately by you.

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