1953, West Bengal: Varun Shrivastav (Ranveer Singh) enters the world of Manikpur’s Zamindaar (Barun Chanda) as an archaeologist whose job is to excavate the area in search of an ancient civilization. But what he finds instead is something he didn’t bargain for – a blossoming romance with Pakhi (Sonakshi Sinha), the zamindaar‘s sheltered daughter, which threatens to capsize his life as he knows it.
From the first frame, it’s clear that Lootera is a world of its own, whether because of the 1950s setting or just how well Mahendra J Shetty captures it. The film opens slowly, and unravels in a similar manner. Nothing about this story is rushed: conversations are carried out in slow whispers, the characters take all the time in the world to look at each other, and the music score unfolds languidly in the background. The downside is that, for many viewers, it will feel like nothing’s really happening – and, indeed, the film does feel like it’s dragging at a point. But at the same time, Lootera is not the kind of film that can be rushed, especially since so much of the beauty lies in the silence, the pauses, and the overlong glances – it’s a film where action takes a backseat to relationships and characters.
And what characters they are, too! Varun appears to be quite the mystery, because – even till the very end – you feel like you don’t know him completely. Sure, parts of his personality shine through, such as when he tenderly cares for Pakhi, or when he tells her that he doesn’t know how to do anything except his current job. But for the most part, so much of his personal story remains unexplored, and while in some cases this can reek of insufficient character development, in Lootera it really works. You know he’s a multi-layered character, but since Pakhi doesn’t get the opportunity to uncover all those layers, neither do you – ensuring that he’s a character you will be pondering even when you exit the theatre. Pakhi, on the other hand, is a more wear-your-heart-on-your-sleeve type, a side-effect from leading the kind of life she does: pampered little girl who can wrangle anything (such as painting lessons) from her doting father. When she feels like she may not be getting what she wants from Varun, she doesn’t back down, but instead demands a response from him and lets her feelings known.
If you had told me about these characters in the beginning and then asked who should be cast for them, I probably wouldn’t have even thought of Ranveer and Sonakshi. Since one is known for being the loud, boisterous boy, and the other for her presence in hardcore masala films, surely no form of subtlety can be expected from them? But in this one, Ranveer and Sonakshi both prove that they can be a lot more than what they’re known for. Ranveer delivers a remarkably restrained performance, and even though he looks stoic at times, it feels like a character trait more than anything else. Sonakshi, who manages to look lovely even with bags under her eyes, plays Pakhi delicately at first, and then more sternly later on. She shows that she shouldn’t go back to playing second-fiddle to heroes in mindless entertainers.
And yes, the film is based on a short story by O’ Henry. I had previously read the story so knew what to expect in the second half, but seeing Vikramaditya Motwane bring it to life on screen still left me teary-eyed. If you haven’t read the story and are considering watching the movie, then my advice would be to hold off on that until you’ve seen it – but of course, come back and read The Last Leaf, because it deserves to be read.
All in all, Lootera is not the kind of film you’d expect out of Bollywood. It thrives on subtlety and is in no hurry to go anywhere. If you don’t like slower films, you’ll perhaps find it worth your while to stay away. But if you want to see some stunning frames and the lead pair’s best performances till date, then this one needs to be watched.