With all my friends on Facebook giving the thumbs up for Lootera, I was tempted. The good part about living in Melbourne these days is that you also get to watch the latest Bollywood releases in a few theatres. So it was a one-and-half hour train ride to get to my sister’s and the Bollywood buff was eager to pick me up from the station and drive me another half an hour to a theatre in a suburb called Sunshine where we sat for three hours over sinful popcorn, KFC burgers and coke to watch what turned out to be a surprisingly, fresh Bollywood movie.
Lootera is green and slow, sad and white. In the lush green village of Manikpur in West Bengal, a rich zamindar lives with his only daughter Pakhi in a big property. It is the 1950s and the colossal vitality of the wealth of zamindars is stark. Against the backdrop of an idyllic setting , the zamindar and his daughter lead a quiet pace of life amid the trappings of luxury.
The two share an immense love for each other, a tone which is set in the opening scene. Watching a local play one evening, Pakhi gets into one of her bouts of asthma attack, the zaminder immediately takes her to her room and nurses her back to health. When she opens her eyes he tells her a story of a king who was indestructible because he hid his life in a parrot. No one could touch the king so long as the parrot was alive. But when the parrot was found and killed, the king died as well. The zamindar tells his daughter she is his parrot.
Their peaceful life is about to take a turn when an archaeologist Varun visits them and undertakes excavation work in the zamindar’s property. Through his quiet demeanour and gentle manners, he wins the heart of not only Pakhi but the zamindar’s.
The subtle romance that blossoms between Pakhi and Varun is marked by silence and sensitivity. Through long walk across the fields, painting classes, and words unspoken, there is a silence that stares them in the face – like they are walking on the edge of a chasm of uncertainty and longing. In the end she throws herself at him with a passion eclipsed by her desire to not let him go when his project ends. She slips into his room at night, in the adjacent guest house of her big bungalow. Varun confesses his love for her too and wants to marry her. But Varun has to make a tough decision – to succumb to love or go back to where he belongs. And he has a lot to reveal.
On the day of the engagement, when the zamindar opens his temple, the venue for the engagement to pray, the head of one of the deities falls off. And with it, his whole world. Varun and his team had dugged a tunnel to ship out the centuries-old idols. Even the cash received for some of the prized possessions of the house that were sold to Varun’s so-called uncle turned out to be fake notes. The life of the zamindar and daughter are turned upside down in one flicker of a moment.
They both go to snowy white Dalhousie, the other property, where the zaminder passes away in grief. Pakhi has become a distraught woman who tries to ink the story of her life. The second half of the movie is her last confrontation with the man who has caused her nothing but grief. The cops are tipped off about Varun and his gang’s plans to strike again and Varun ends up in the guest house that belongs to Pakhi. She is literally on her death bed having caught tuberculosis and the long arms of the law have finally caught on Varun. In a sense, they have both reached a dead end of life. He tells her, “I have never forgiven myself for betraying you and your father” but is this enough to redeem himself before her eyes? However this time he does not leave her even if it means risking his life.
When Pakihi eventually started writing, she equated the length of her life to shedding of the snow-covered leaves from the tree outside her window. Like the parrot story her father once told her, she was sure her life was tied to the last leaf of the tree. Varun who had read her notes made sure the leaf never fell and creates an artificial leaf which he tied to the tree. In the last scene, Varun dies shot by the cops, Pakhi is left staring at the leaf which never leaves the tree.
Lootera is certainly mesmerising. The cinematography is excellent. Filmmaker Vikramaditya Motwane was inspired by O Henry’s The Last Leaf and like all classics, the film’s ingredients are silence, language, tragedy and love. Newcomer Sonakshi Sinha is very convincing and so is Ranveer Singh who plays Varun. If there is anything wanting in the film, it is the need for more romance which was all consummated in the first half.