Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Lootera - The Many Moods of Love

Vikramaditya Motwane, the creator of that flawless gem ‘Udaan’ is back again with his adaptation of O.Henry’s short story ‘The Last Leaf’. Taking the premise and weaving a saga of love, longing, betrayal and redemption around it, his ‘Lootera’ is a modern day masterpiece, doing perfect justice to a timeless classic much in the same way as Rituparno Ghosh did with his interpretation of O.Henry’s ‘Gift of the Magi’ in ‘Raincoat’. ‘Lootera’ brings alive an era long buried in the sands of time. The year is 1953. The zamindari system is taking its last breaths before the government wrests their lands away. In Manikpur, West Bengal, one such zamindar (veteran Bengali actor Barun Chanda) dotes on his ailing daughter Pakhi (a brilliantly nuanced Sonakshi Sinha). At the onset he tells her of that classic tale of the king whose life was imprisoned in a parrot. Pakhi is his parrot. How that tales ties up beautifully to the conclusion and the journey Pakhi’s heart takes across the mountains of rousing love, heightened passions to plunge into the dark caves of loss and betrayal before finding stable land in hope and renewed trust forms this painting on celluloid.

Into Pakhi’s privileged, sheltered world walks in Varun (a wonderfully restrained Ranveer Singh) and brings that first flush of romance and longing into her restless heart. It is as if she were waiting to fall in love. She does, with covert glances and unmistakably playful hints. Varun introduces himself as an archeologist in search of a lost civilization around the zamindar’s land and gains the zamindar’s confidence to be allowed to stay with his friend in the man’s own house. The initial hour of the movie is a lesson in depicting romance on celluloid. The painting lessons that Pakhi initiates to gain proximity to Varun, his desire to be able to paint a masterpiece, the languid days under the sun of picnics and stolen glances are a throwback to old world romance. Pakhi’s confession of her heart’s secret, the surprising rebuff and her utter shock and inability to handle the pain of rejection are so heartfelt and real that it forms an immediate connect with the audience. Varun’s subsequent yielding and their lovemaking has to be the most beautifully portrayed scene of love I have witnessed in recent times.

The movie takes a turn for the dark in the later hour and is set in the winter snowed in landscape of Dalhousie. The contrast between the sunny days of innocence and the later coldness of betrayal, grief and angst is stark and poetic. The beauty lies in that, within the tragedy the tale completes a circle to light up the eyes of its protagonist with hope and faith once more. Love stories are dime a dozen in the Hindi film industry. There is a lot of song and dancing, obstacles galore, and the inevitable happy (sometimes tragic) end we witness time and again. But to witness cinema so sublime, with emotions so raw and palpable, love so relatable, is rare and in that rarity lies the utter beauty of Lootera. Towards the climax is a scene where Pakhi asks Varun if he had ever really loved her. Her need to know that answer even after her life has irrevocably been changed, and his response filled with an honesty and desperate anguish is a moment of great art. It is altogether heart wrenching in its reality. Anybody who has ever desperately loved and lost can relate.

The movie is embellished with great performances. Every character is a job well done from the zamindar, to the friend and Varun’s partner in crime (Vikrant Massey), the zealous inspector interestingly named K.N.Singh (a nod to that great villain of yore) played by the wonderful Adil Hussain. But the soul of the love story is Pakhi and Varun, Sonakshi Sinha and Ranveer Singh. Sonakshi is an actress I owe an apology to. I have till now loathed her, a mere showpiece in mind numbing bollywood trash in her short career so far. I was highly doubtful of her being cast in a Vikramaditya Motwane movie because though I had no doubts of the director excelling in his new venture, I had zero hope about the actress. For that I apologize. Sonakshi gives a luminous performance in every frame, breathing life and fire into the varying shades of her Pakhi’s journey. Her eyes twinkle and blaze at correct intervals. Her self loathing at being betrayed by her own heart is fierce. This is a performance to be forever proud of.

The previously gregarious Ranveer Singh reins in his exuberance, to find a performance of restrain and expresses with his eyes. That silent tear rolling down his cheek caught in the mirror before his betrayal, shows us how far the actor has traveled with this role. In Motwane’s capable hands both Ranveer and Sonakshi and by extension the audience has discovered hidden actors in the two upcoming stars. Motwane had previously made that beautiful coming of age tale, the story of a boy spreading his wings out of the autocratic atmosphere at home in ‘Udaan’. He makes a wonderful departure with this old world love story. His touch is evident in every frame, his sensibilities and aesthetics making for a movie where the atmosphere is soaked into the tale, there is none of the flashiness of period cinema that we observe in other Indian movies set in lost times. But in the sequences, the gestures, the dialogues we find an era long gone, a world that was not so caught up in pace, where people lingered over conversations, over emotions. That elusive old world charm is at play here in every masterful frame. But most importantly it is the raw emotion of that beast called love and subsequent heartbreak that is so effectively displayed, so hauntingly real in its tone. The cinematography by Mahendra Shetty is beautifully mellow and shifting with the moods. The music by Amit Trivedi harks of the golden days of movie melody. The songs are seamlessly integrated into the narrative.

Movies like ‘Lootera’ reinforces that all is not lost in the Hindi film industry. Where only formulaic cinema seem to thrive, once in a while, like the first drizzle of rain on parched earth comes along cinema that can only be described as glorious visual poetry, a wondrous painting with strokes of the various moods of love deftly portrayed on the celluloidal canvas. This is the best movie to have come out of the Hindi film industry this year and it will be a hard one to beat.

Released in 2013
In Hindi

My rating: 4.5/5

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