From Vikramaditya Motwane and Anurag Kashyap. The guys who brought us the stunning Udaan. What could go wrong? Lootera is a masterclass in lighting and blocking a scene, a tremendous display of artistry, craft and detailing. It’s a grand, beautiful looking film that constantly gives you hope that it will come up with something sweeping to say. Sadly it’s far from the film that you would expect it to be considering the talent involved. It is lyrical, twee, gritty, romantic, poignant. Lootera is a lot of things, but mostly it’s a failure. An ambitious one for sure, but a failure.
Directed with admirable dedication by Motwane, the film vaults like a skier across the slippery terrain of the Dalhousie Himalayas. It’s a film that wants you to register an emotional response instead of an intellectual one - on a scale of 1 to Mills and Boon, Lootera falls right around Nicholas Sparks territory. Hopefully Motwane recognizes this because the plot is ridiculous, and even as a romantic tear jerker that requests your suspension of disbelief to part ways with you, the film is simply pretty but uninvolving. There is Amit Trivedi’s exquisite music to keep the atmosphere intact but it only serves as window-dressing to a film that is at best unmemorable and inconsequential.
Lootera might have worked had there been a semblance of chemistry between its stars Ranveer Singh and Sonakshi Sinha, but there isn’t. It makes the movie a hollow, soulless watch. I felt nothing watching the film. Neither love, nor hate. Nothing. The protagonists of Lootera are in desperate need of a glass of decaf, and a human being for the lead actor rather than a gormless stand-in. Throughout the film Ranveer has two basic expressions – grim, and grim with a stubble. Sonakshi is not bad, a far cry from the terrible 100 cr films she has appeared in, but she’s always pained, always looking tragically sad, with her under eye dark circle makeup doing all the requisite acting. I’d trade every last morsel of the pretty artwork, old world charm and period detailing for a single moment of authentic emotion from these characters.
The story is full of romantic pronouncements that translate to a film that is neither believable nor enchanting. That Motwane and screenwriter Bhavani Iyer chose to adapt O Henry’s The Last Leaf needn’t have been the kiss of death, but it set up its own set of problems. These start with improbable plot devices which attempt to be masked by the wonderful period setting. They’re compounded by a screenplay that can’t establish why two lovers would remain together despite one of them completely ruining the other’s life. The crucial scene set years later when the two lead characters meet again lacks the overwhelming feeling that these two people are star-crossed lovers meant to be together. There is no clarity at all about whether the hero Varun is a villain, a good villain or simply misdirected, because none of his shifts in behavior are properly established. So when he takes a massive U-turn in the second half, going against everything he has done in life in a matter of two minutes, it is jarringly unconvincing. And there's no real suspense – Motwane is so deadly earnest about the ‘power of love’ that you’re left to simply twiddle your thumbs and wait for the inevitable. The abruptness of the second half as it leaps from an obscure chase scene in the bizarrely isolated town of Dalhousie is unsettling, revealing that either Motwane had a five hour rough cut or he just didn't know where to take a stand with his film's focal point.
That said, you can’t deny Motwane the credit for rising above the tackiness and schmaltz found in mainstream Bollywood - the cinematic flair of someone like Sanjay Leela Bhansali is applied by a waxy sopping wet sugar coated roller, but Motwane in Lootera applies it by obsessive compulsively perfect paint strokes. Even if the climax is a corny beast of sentimental claptrap. Given the cloying, saccharine premise, this is probably the best possible film that could be made.
While the leads are mostly vacuous, and Arif Zakaria and Adil Hussain have perfunctory roles, there's one performer in Lootera who looks completely at ease with what he's doing – Barun Chanda, who plays the father of Sonakshi’s character. The man is terrific, and it is cringe inducing to later see Divya Dutta who has precisely one line of dialogue and serves absolutely no purpose in the film. Two or three individual sequences, like the scene leading up to the interval, juxtaposed with Trivedi’s BGM are well done, but they can’t hold the movie together. The specter of what Lootera might have been comes to the forefront during these scenes when Motwane briefly looks like he’s going to breathe life into the sentimental slushy hogwash of its source material. Unfortunately he must have realized he couldn’t pull it off, and stops short of going the extra mile. Too bad, because Lootera could have been something more than the forgettable and unpersuasive stopover that it ultimately is.