A seemingly bright young girl Pakhi (Sonakshi Sinha) fiddles with the switch of a newly installed tungsten bulb in her zamindar father’s well-maintained haveli, the inner courtyard of which is also lamp-lit for pujas, plays, and movie screenings. Her untrammelled delight in screwing up the bulb playfully sweeps us into a period film. It is a thing of the past – to have been sequestered for long without electricity. A tube light moment for moviegoers. But what kind of a period film is Lootera? One seeped in cine-sepia?
Varun Shrivastav (Ranveer Singh), an archaeologist arrives at the haveli like Bhootnath once did in Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam. He is being watched by the girl through green window slats from her room, and she could be Charulata when she grows up. She has a pair of magnifying glasses (Charulata had binoculars). The two principal characters talk to each other in muffled tones (like Sanjay Leela Bhansali star crossed lovers) and idle their time painting landscapes, or picnicking (another Satyajit Ray film nod). They are in an O Henry story, and their high-voltage chamber drama channels the director’s Inner-Bergman. What could be more beautiful?
The zamindar is from Ray’s Jalsaghar in his love for the grand where fortune is on the decline. ‘Light up the whole mansion,’ he tells the electrician repairing the bulb that has been hotly fingered, ‘and fit the expenses’ he turns to his pained manager checking accounts for inflation. Varun scams the Bengali zamindar holding on to his fading power under threat of abolition from the British. Varun disappears before his engagement to Pakhi. They meet after a year. She is dying and he has to make a choice for love.
Lootera can boast of a flawless cast, its handful of characters; the ‘antar aatma’ voice of Vikrant Massey (in places sounding aptly inchoate), who is Ranveer’s friend to a sulky Divya Dutt who is given the minuscule role of wielding a rolling pin (and once a gun as kitchen tool). There’s Arif Zakaria in a stony bit, and Adil Hussain playing hard-boiled cop.
Its admirable of Sonkashi to take this role where the film is shot almost entirely in close-up and nearly no make-up. Other actors would disappear from the scene. She brings a gauche required of her part, her own attractive against die-cast pretty lends itself interestingly to her latter portions draped in grief and fever. This is a broody role for Ranveer. He’s played a ‘type’ in his previous films – lothario/romeo. In Lootera he’s had to rein his energies into a quiet, muted space. He could have been ‘out of character’ at such an early stage, but that hasn’t happened.
Some of the most stunning shots are a flicker, for which the editor must be patted for not over-indulging. The cinematography and the background music are the film’s strong pillars to rest on this gorgeously mounted film, which will make you wonder, could all of this have been filmed inside a snow globe?
Director Vikramaditya Motwane was asked in a Reuters interview if he thinks of an audience while making a film. ‘Of course,’ he said ‘you cannot make an obtuse film that only appeals to a small niche section of the audience.’ Lootera is obtuse. The larger audience isn’t.
Rating: *** 1/2