Who knew that in this cinema of corrupt cops and even more corrupt villains, a filmmaker could still give us a poignant ode to the transience of love and actually make us care about two people we’ve never met before so much so that we don’t even notice two and a half hours whizz by? It’s almost unreal, like something from the movies. LOOTERA is a beautifully shot, lovingly made, old-fashioned romance very much in the vein of COLD MOUNTAIN, so delicate it’s almost insubstantial. This is the film which FANAA tried to be, minus the scene where Kajol shoots down a helicopter with a pistol. This is the film we both need and deserve right now. The comparisons between Motwane’s sophomore effort and his debut stunner are bound to come up, but really, apart from a gentle lyricism at play in both movies, there is nothing to unite them. You get a sense that he is experimenting now, flexing his creative muscles, seeing what else he can do. LOOTERA is by no means a follow-up to UDAAN. What it is, is one of the best romances that Bollywood has produced in many a year.
The story is set from 1953-56, just after India’s independence, where Pakhi Roychoudhury (Sonakshi Sinha, finally breaking free) is living a sheltered, blessed existence with her zamindar father (Bengali cinema veteran Barun Chanda in a measured, dignified performance) in the last days of the zamindari era. The charismatic archaeologist Varun Srivastava (Ranveer Singh, still showing oodles of promise) comes to their house with a letter from the Archaeological Society of India, asking for permission to dig for artefacts in their backyard. Love blossoms between the two leads, as it inevitably must, and yet not a single scene here seems forced or inauthentic. But Varun is not all he makes himself out to be and things soon turn nasty.
It takes an excellent director to wring visual poetry out a story set in the steel mills and smoke turrets of Jamshedpur, but if Vikramaditya Motwane can give us one of the most moving, powerful and beautiful Indian movies of the last decade in UDAAN, imagine what he can do when given the locales of Purulia and Dalhousie to play with. LOOTERA is, above all, pure visual art on celluloid, every flake of snow, every impeccably crafted candlelight shadow coming together seamlessly as a whole to create magic. Motwane wrings pathos out of his frames, the unspoken sadness of the end of an era, the loss of a way of life, of love that cannot be—the sadness of the last leaf falling from a tree in a snowstorm, lost to the world forever. The sadness of impermanence, of the ebb and flow of bright passions too bright to endure.
Yet even if Varun and Pakhi’s great passion cannot endure, the imagery of the film can. One shot in particular of the two of them sitting in a vintage car in the middle of a field, holding each other tight, as dusk falls around them, reminded me acutely of the haunting nightscapes of Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s brilliant ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA. Or of Pakhi excitedly switching on and off the first electric bulb in her house, delight writ large on her face. Motwane and his cinematographer from UDAAN, Mahendra Shetty, make fluent use of the locales of the film, image after magical image.
The film would hardly be the tour de force that it is without Amit Trivedi’s virtuosic music though. Every single song, whether it is crowd-favorite Saawar Loon or the folksy Monta Re, is perfect and perfectly used. The background score, though, is Trivedi’s real success here, serving as focal points for the drama, never overused, never hackly done. Whether or not the film’s theme song had any influence from Rachel Portman’s WE HAD TODAY is something to wonder about, though.
Since the film is not a particularly verbose one, both leads needed to put in excellent performances and use their physicality well, which they do here. Motwane seems to have taken a leaf out of Satyajit Ray’s book by introducing dialogue only when it would be impossible to communicate the ideas purely visually. But even with the barest minimum of dialogue, Sonakshi and Ranveer make us empathize powerfully with their characters and their doomed love story. The flawless pacing of the film helps us to relate to the characters better and gives both these actors time to develop their roles more fully, so that when they do kiss for the first time (and what a kiss it is), the audience can find it completely believable. They do not fall in love because they have to, not because the script dictates they must, but because they just do. Sonakshi’s transformation, in particular, from manic pixie dreamgirl to betrayed woman is heartrendingly done.
In a bid to capture transience, though, the film ends up becoming insubstantial and airy. Ranveer and Sonakshi are three dimensional characters lost in a puddle of extras. This film will not add anything to my experience on a second viewing. But that is almost beside the point. I want to see this film again. Why? For the same reason that we keep falling in love over and over again, knowing full well what’s in store. Because, as I once heard in a film the name of which I have long forgotten, while it lasts, it feels so fucking good, doesn’t it?
A lovingly made, beautifully shot ode to falling in love, the likes of which we are fortunate to still see. 8.5/10.