Balaji Motion Pictures and Phantom Films’ Lootera (UA) is a love story set in Bengal of the 1950s. Inspired by O’ Henry’s short story, The Last Leaf, it is about the romance between Pakhi (Sonakshi Sinha) and Varun (Ranveer Singh).
Pakhi lives in a protected atmosphere in an aristrocratic world with her father (Barun Chanda), a zamindar. Varun enters their lives and introduces himself as an archaeologist. He seeks – and gets – permission from Pakhi’s father to work on a plot of land around a temple owned by him, to dig out a civilisation. Pakhi finds herself attracted towards Varun and spends a lot of time with him. Why, she even teaches him painting and Varun promises to make a landmark painting some day! Varun’s friend, Deb (Vikrant Massey), warns him about falling in love with Pakhi but Varun’s heart beats for Pakhi. Soon, he asks Pakhi’s father for her hand in marriage.
Pakhi’s father announces her engagement with Varun and even as the engagement preparations are underway, Varun and his friend disappear. Pakhi is devastated and not just because Varun has gone away but also because he has cheated her father of all the antiques he had.
After her father’s demise, Pakhi is unable to forget Varun, and she leaves her ancestral home and comes to Dalhousie where also the family owns a mansion. Varun re-enters her life even as the police is hunting for him, his uncle, Bajpai (Arif Zakaria), and friend, Deb.
Police officer K.N. Singh (Adil Hussain) approaches Pakhi for leads to track down Varun as he is aware of their love affair. Pakhi gives him one lead but once Varun is in Dalhousie, Pakhi refuses to help the police.
Why does Pakhi not help the police? What happens when Varun comes into Pakhi’s life for the second time? Why had he disappeared the first time? What is the truth about Varun? Does he truly love Pakhi or is it just a one-sided affair? Do Pakhi and Varun unite in matrimony or is their romance star-crossed? Does Varun keep his promise of a landmark painting? What is that painting?
The story, set in the 50s’ Bengal, moves at a leisurely pace. The screenplay, penned by Bhavani Iyer and Vikramaditya Motwane, has a number of twists and turns, which keep the audience involved throughout. But the pace at which the drama moves is extremely slow and will, therefore, bore a large section of the viewers. However, there would be a section of the audience which would find the drama interesting and engrossing despite the slow pace.
Actually, the first half is very beautiful and enjoyable in spite of the inherently slow pace. The humour often makes the audience laugh or at least smile. The pace continues to be very very slow after interval but the additional problem then is that the drama also becomes a bit repetitive. The pace picks up once Varun enters Pakhi’s Dalhousie house, and a couple of twists and turns thereafter are truly interesting. The climax is quite unpredictable and the bitter-sweet ending will satisfy the evolved audience while keeping the masses very dissatisfied. Dialogues (Anurag Kashyap) are gems.
The romance between Pakhi and Varun is elevating and touches the heart. It is also enjoyable because there are entertaining moments. The drama is heightened by the songs, narrative style and performances of a very high order by the lead actors. Emotions may not draw tears from the eyes but they definitely touch the heart.
Having said that, it must also be added that the script would appeal only to the romantic at heart and the classes but definitely not to the masses.
Ranveer Singh, in a get-up reminiscent of the 1950s, looks wonderfully different and acts with remarkable ease. He is superb. Sonakshi Sinha looks every inch the Bengali beauty she plays and performs brilliantly. She is first-rate and the role could fetch her awards. Together, Ranveer and Sonakshi’s chemistry is very good. Barun Chanda is simply outstanding as the zamindar-father of Pakhi. His voice, his expressions, his gait while walking, his body language, all add up to make his performance memorable. Vikrant Massey is very cute and also very entertaining. Adil Hussain leaves a sure mark in the role of N.K. Singh. Arif Zakaria makes his presence felt in a brief role. Divya Dutta is wasted but her acting, of course, is very fine. Shirin Guha lends good support. Pratap Jaiswal, as Mazumdar, acts ably. Dibyendu Bhattacharya leaves a mark. Others are also very effective.
Vikramaditya Motwane’s narrative style is poetic and unique and he makes the romantic film a heart-warming drama which stays in the viewer’s memory and subconscious for long after he has seen the film. Motwane’s handling of the subject is remarkable! But it must be mentioned that the film is aimed so completely at the gentry and the evolved audience only that the masses will not find much interest in it, mainly, of course, due to its slow pace. Amit Trivedi’s serene music and Amitabh Bhattacharya’s splendid lyrics add to the romance of the drama and the old-world charm of the film. The songs are superb, especially the ‘Sawaar loon’ and ‘Ankahee’ numbers. ‘Shikayatein’, ‘Zinda hoon’ and ‘Manmarziyaan’ are also very beautiful songs and so is ‘Monta re’. Both, Amit Trivedi and Amitabh Bhattacharya seem to have been wonderfully inspired while composing the music and penning the lyrics respectively. The songs have been choreographed beautifully. Amit Trivedi’s background score, like his music, is supremely inspired. Mahendra Shetty’s cinematography is so extraordinary that the film looks like a painting on celluloid. The Dalhousie locales, especially in the climax when it is snowing, are heavenly. Sham Kaushal’s action and chase sequences go very well with the mood, flavour and era of the film. Sets are superb. Dipika Kalra’s editing is terrific.
On the whole, Lootera is a beautifully made, brilliantly shot and wonderfully enacted love story which will be loved by the classes and evolved audience only. It is a painting on celluloid which will win a lot of critical acclaim and awards. It will not find favour with the masses and single-screen cinema audience which may even reject the film, mainly because it is excruciatingly slow. Collections in the good multiplexes and big cities will pick up and, in the final tally, the returns will be enough for it to prove a safe fare. Of its total investment of Rs. 32 crore, around 65-70% has already been recovered from sale of satellite and music rights. Recovery of the balance 30-35% from the theatrical revenues shouldn’t be a problem.