Disclaimer: The piece below is NOT a review, merely a humble analysis or something similar, thereby not covering entirety of the film or its plot.
Lootera made me cry. That perhaps, could say it all. But the film deserves much more to be written about it. To begin with the laurels, it opens with an elaborate Durga Puja at a Zamindar house somewhere in Bengal. We have watched Durga Puja portrayed in quite a few Hindi films, none of them much to my liking except Kahaani, perhaps. There were Parineeta and Devdas with gaudy, pompous imagery of the festival and over-jewelled women hovering near the idol rustling their expensive designer sarees. Kahaani, for the first time presented a real piece of the puja from the streets of contemporary Calcutta, normal women resplendent in plain red-bordered-white-sarees performing the vermilion ritual on Bijoya Dashami. Then came Lootera, with an old world Durga Puja in a village, exactly the kind of story many of us have heard from our parents and grandparents. There used to be one hundred eight earthen pradips (lamps) and the same number of lotus blooms for the Ashtami puja, there used to be makeshift bamboo platforms staging the local village play or hired ‘opera’s from Calcutta, there used to be wealthy Zamindar women dressed in dhakai sarees and full-sleeved blouses with their neatly plaited braids and silver brooches. All these recreated perfectly in Lootera made me wonder about the director being a ‘non-Bengali’ as we term such people. I don’t know if he did the research himself, but it is nearly perfect. I say nearly for minute glitches like a stud on the wrong nose of Pakhi’s sakhi Miss Majumdar. Bengali women wear their studs, pins and rings on the left plateau of their noses. There is also a minor aberration of the ladies wearing coloured glass bangles in a few scenes. Unless the village shown in the film was meant to be set in precise vicinity of Bihar, the women of Bengal never wore coloured glass bangles, especially Zamindar women who had kilograms of gold to spare.
If I were to classify this film into a genre, I’d say ‘Love’ for the first half and ‘Pain’ for the second. The first half is gay (in the original English sense of the word) and passionate, while the second half is poignant and intense. It could well have been a double-scoop layered carefully to extract a plethora of emotions from the audience. The first half is about a doting father and a darling daughter, and then the girl meets the boy. It is probably one of the best girl-meets-boy scenes in Hindi films, executed with utmost care and perfection. A motor bike rider in 1953 was a looker for sure, more so in a village. No wonder the girl lost her control on the brake and flipped his bike over. Ranveer Singh has never looked so believable and absolutely in the skin of Varun Shrivastav, his character. The rest is followed by a beautiful and complicated romance (and I don’t mean only love) which developed gradually but steadily. The painting lessons, the excavations, the dinners on wooden chaukis and steel plates, the half-sleeved Sando ganjees (vests) worn by the men, cherished melodies on radio, the curios in the antique room – everything falls into place creating a puzzle called R.O.M.A.N.C.E. And here I must mention Vikrant Massey (as Debdas Mukherjee) and Barun Chanda (as Zamindar Soumitra RoyChoudhury), two actors separated by decades of age and proving themselves excellent performers on the same platform. Barun Chanda’s diction always kept me away from liking his work, in spite of his stellar performance in Seemabaddha (1972) by Satyajit Ray. This time he made it through better, in my humble opinion.
The separation of Varun and Pakhi after a fraudulent attempt to engagement leads to the second half. The debacle of glass bangles is well covered by adorning sick Pakhi’s forearms with a solo gold bangle. Pakhi in Dalhousie is deserted by her lover and dejected after her father’s death. Her stark image wrapped in a black shawl trying to write desperately, only to fail in doing so depicts her state much aptly. The colourful sarees and glass bangles are replaced with a black shawl and a solo gold bangle. Cliched, perhaps. But life is so too. Her depression coupled with illness is heart-wrenching. There is the last glint in her eyes when she peeks through the curtains to catch a glimpse of him. After a year of separation. Then begins the game of hide-and-seek between Varun, Pakhi and the police. He comes to her for refuge, discovers her plight and hatred for him, and yet there is love in that same hatred. I had this idea once, ‘Either you love someone, or you don’t. How can it be complicated?’ That doesn’t hold true in the film, or even in real life. Pakhi hates Varun for leaving her alone and inflicting shame and death upon her father. But at the same time, he’s the only man she ever loved and she can’t think otherwise. Their interactions as each others’ captives, their silence, tears, repentance, their embraces are all painted on a beautiful snow-clad canvas. And there is blood. On snow. I was holding my breath for the last twenty minutes, with tears flowing smoothly down my cheek. The rest of people around me chose to snort out shallow laughs and fights with co-audience throughout the second half, making me wonder if I am the only dumb-belle of the 21st century.
Kudos to the director who chose silence over ancillary words to express the subtle emotions.
Finally, this is one film I can recommend to my father, hoping he wouldn’t term all directors in this millennium era as opodartho (worthless).
P.S.– I would like to believe that this film is not an adaptation of The Last Leaf by O’Henry, rather inspired by the story. The film has its own plot which doesn’t do justice as an adaptation to The Last Leaf, it is better as an inspiration.