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Lootera – A Stealer of a Film

The zamindar was a trusting man. He trusted that nothing will ever happen to his estate. He trusted the young archeologist that came to explore the area around the temple. He trusted the young man that told him he will do all he can to keep his daughter happy.

His daughter is a writer. She grew up in affluence; went to Shanti Niketan. Confident, assertive, fun loving and passionate. She loved the stranger that came to live in their home. She thought that her love would keep him with her.

But, he didn’t come there to steal a heart. There were other things on his mind.

The zamindar died of a broken heart. His daughter didn’t, but she might as well have. Her heart and spirit broken, she is waiting for the last leaf to fall off the tree in her backyard before she herself withers away.

Then, the thief is back in her life. What is left there for him to steal?

Lootera is a powerful, well written film handled deftly and with great sensitivity by the very talented filmmaker, Vikramaditya Motwane. He certainly delivers on the promise he made with his Udaan a couple of years ago. The way this director moves the plot forward while building the right atmosphere is amazing, particularly so in the first half of the film (Motwane shares the credit for the screenplay with Bhavani Iyer). There does not appear to be a single wasted scene, sentence or a shot (Deepika Kalra is the editor). He does not give in to excess at any point, and at times appears to deliberately underplay the scene or end it a bit too soon. Here is clearly a director that respects the intelligence of his audience. It seemed that Motwane deliberately and passionately refused to sacrifice any part of his film to appease the gods of commercial Indian cinema. A good woman having her heart broken by a con man is a trusted and tried old trope in films, but the narration of this film keeps it quite fresh. And Anurag Kashyap’s dialogue was at times just stunning. Lootera is proof yet again that good writing makes good films.

But, the surprise of the film, and the one that makes this film really work, is Sonakshi Sinha. The last two times I saw this young woman in a film, there was not an iota of a suggestion that she can act. But, clearly she inherited the acting genes from her celebrated father. She owns the role of Pakhi as few actresses owned one in recent times. Besides looking beautiful in the period brocades in the first half, she makes the sassiness and passion of Pakhi come through quite effectively. Then, in the second half, she convincingly transforms into the bitter and broken Pakhi. She expresses and emotes very well. This might be an author backed role, but Sonakshi never falters and confidently takes the film over.

Barun Chanda as the Zamindar also was quite impressive. He conveys the old worldly persona without overplaying it a bit. He makes us feel his affection for his daughter and his angst as the world around him changes in ways that he did not anticipate.

Ranvir Singh plays the man that Pakhi falls in love with. He underplays his role so much that he seemed wooden at times. Vikrant Massey, Adil Hussain and Divya Dutta, as expected, perform competently.

This is a period film, set in a Bengali zamindari haveli in 1953 and in Dalhousie a year later. The art director and the director are to be congratulated for the way the atmosphere is authentically created and presented. Mahendra Shetty’s cinematography, without being obviously and obtrusively gorgeous, sets the mood well.

Once more, Amit Trivedi provides great music that serves more as background score. A quick count in IMDB showed that I saw 17 of the 25 films that he composed for. It appears that he has become THE composer for the most of the sensible filmmakers.

The filmmakers credit O’Henry’s Last Leaf as inspiring this film. Frankly, I thought that the last leaf part was the tackiest element in this movie. First, a film that kept taking interesting turns until then suddenly took a turn towards the predictable. Second, it did not fit well with this story. Third, Pakhi, a literate person and writer, would have been too familiar with O’Henry to come up with such tacky symbolism. I had a similar concern about the parable of the parrot too. It was narrated well at the beginning, though the point of it was not clear. Trying to tie it later to the last leaf was, IMO, a bit of a stretch. I have a feeling that the first version of this script was very different from the final film they made.

It was amusing to see the film references from the past. The zamindar is named Soumitra; the side-kick is Debdas Mukherjee; the policeman is KN Singh; the treasury officer is Biswajeet.

Lootera dispelled two of my delusions: Sonakshi Sinha cannot act and Balaji Films cannot make good films. Ekta Kapoor should be complimented for producing this film.

Congratulations to Vikramaditya Motwane and his team. I hope that he continues to make a mark on the Indian cinema.

A strong recommendation.

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