What made him love her? What made her still love him? These were the two questions which collided with conflict and then ask the latter what made it do so, the first time I saw Lootera – back in 2013. It was almost meant to be as Motwane’s second movie was completely different from the first – Udaan – but somehow still won its battles in its intimacy with the audience. It defined his style, and five years on with Trapped and Bhavesh Joshi Superhero, I can confirm that Motwane loves to keep his films multi-layered and realistically sensitive.
The cue here – our female protagonist Paakhi (Sonakshi Sinha). Had it not been for Varun’s (Ranveer Singh) introduction as an archaeologist, Paakhi – in her mid-twenties – did not have much purpose in life. She was all set to spend her life in its very intended way, the source of this mysterious intention we are all looking for in our lives. Somewhat very similar to Satyajit Ray’s Charulata (1964), we saw Paakhi as a Bengali girl in a 50s household. Both women spent their days at home and things surrounded to the people living in it. Ray and Motwane both emphasised on the setting still adjusting to life post the British era. Charulata provides us a view of what things would have been for her ideally, but in loving and exploring life in the concept that was Varun – a handsome looking boy, her father is deeply impressed by – Paakhi started building her story away from intended.
While it was inelastically fitting and cinematically almost perfect when Paakhi discovers that the leaves were not natural in origin, but rather were the consequence of something even purer in the sense that Varun made them to assure Paakhi’s well-being after him. We see small flashbacks as to how these leaves were the one thing she taught Varun to draw in the first half of the movie, Motwane intentionally indicating the connection. But it was more than mere coincidence or something Paakhi will smile about every time she looks out of the window, it in its esteemed spiritual way meant that she knew the answer to her life back then. The leaves were it. And like most people, she just needed it to know it from someone else.
Hence the name, too. Motwane didn’t intend to base the movie around the leaves, contrary to the text it has been adapted from (O Henry‘s Last Leaf). Lootera as a concept stood for Paakhi’s diversion away from the predictable. The concept of a person who appears, charms and ultimately betrays, from the perspective of the female protagonist is where Motwane placed his bets at.
Lootera, in structure and behaviour, presents its case as the tale of two cities, or rather halves. Manikpur and Dalhousie. Warm and cold. Love and regret. Old age – tradition, and youth and crime. Classical Indian to contemporary, coming of age music. And much more evidently, life and death. Unsurprisingly, Motwane did not just restrict these to only physical attributes, even the dialogues, and the overall content as well. For example, the use of the word Paakhi – used in a very personal and safe sense. In the first half, it was used more than twice the number of times it was used in the second (I actually ran the numbers).
While the script, the direction, and the acting – all pay off, Amit Trivedi’s music is what we take home. It has been five years since its release, but it remains one of the best albums the Indian Film Industry has ever produced. Not just individual tracks, their placement, and meaning inside the movie were special as well – an observation which takes multiple viewings. It doesn’t seem like there are scenes and then some songs in between. It’s more of scenes connecting tracks, something I hadn’t felt since Hum Aapke Hain Kaun (in a different sense, of course). Lootera’s soundtrack feels like a big poem which makes sense when you think of what individual paragraphs said chronologically: Ankahee, Shikayatein, Zinda and Manmarziyan.
Sonakshi Sinha is surprisingly powerful as an artist and Ranveer Singh, much more surprisingly, is beautifully effective in a role with lesser amplitude, and dance, in general. Vikrant Massey is impressive, to say the least, and his choice of movies is better than most when I look around in the industry.
Lootera works the most in between dialogues, purely because of the comfort that Motwane established with the audience. It never really gets slow, as much as it gets personal. So effortless, and definitive, that the ambiguity between and about the characters is accepted and adored – a feeling portrayed through Ankahee during the credits, where in Amitabh Bhattacharya’s words the movie concludes
“Sadiyon Puraani, aisi ek kahaani,
Reh gayi, ankahee.”
- Mayank Malik