Friday, July 5, 2013


Release date:
July 5, 2013
Vikramaditya Motwane


Sonakshi Sinha, Ranveer Singh, Vikrant Massey, Adil Hussain, Divya Dutta, Arif Zakaria

As I sit down to write this review, there’s a feeling of warmth and happiness and sadness wafting around the heart, the urge to cry a bit and smile a bit more. It’s all the effect of Vikramaditya Motwane’s little love poem, Lootera. The story is very loosely inspired by (and duly credited to) American writer O. Henry’s beautiful short The Last Leaf, familiar to many Indians since it’s been part of English literature textbooks in schools. That’s only an element in the tale at hand though. Lootera takes us to 1953 West Bengal where Pakhi Roychoudhury lives with her zamindar father. One day they are visited by a government archaeologist called Varun Srivastav who wishes to excavate around the family temple. Pakhi and Varun are drawn to each other but he cannot make a commitment to her for reasons he can’t reveal. Separated by cruel compulsions, they come back into each other’s lives under circumstances that would test even long-time lovers.

Frankly, if I’d read the screenplay, Ranveer Singh and Sonakshi Sinha would not have automatically come to mind to play a tortured couple from the 1950s. He, after all, is best-known as Band Baaja Baaraat’s wonderfully OTT Bittoo, and in Ladies vs Ricky Bahl was just a more urbane extension of BBB’s binness-man. Could he possibly be subdued? She has so far played a pretty appendage to male stars in a string of big films riding on the hero’s name. Could she possibly be an equal partner? It takes a director with vision to know the answer to those questions could be yes, and both actors live up to the faith reposed in them. Sonakshi pulls off a Pakhi who is spirited yet vulnerable, educated yet sheltered enough to naively ask what the government will do with her family’s lands, without the crutch of loudness that has characterised her films so far. Ranveer faces a tougher challenge. Despite his shorter filmography, he has played more impactful characters than Sonakshi so far. To put Bittoo and Ricky out of our minds is not easy, but he manages that with his Varun. At first it feels like he’s using an old actors’ ploy, just staring into space and allowing us to read whatever we wish in his eyes… then you realise, that’s the nature of Varun: stoic, with yearning simmering below the impassive surface, that fire-below-the-ice flashing forth in scenes like the one in which he wrestles with her to give her an injection she so desperately needs but does not want from his hands. There’s an intense chemistry between them that finds subtle expression until they consummate the relationship. And though in 2013 it’s slightly irritating to see sex scenes in which either star seems to have stipulated that they won’t kiss, or at least kiss much, their old-world romance until then is enchanting.

Lootera’s strong supporting cast is led by Bengali actor Barun Chanda who brings alive the confusion of a kindly old man unable to understand the need for an end to the zamindari system. TV star Vikrant Massey makes his big screen debut with an excellent performance as Varun’s close friend and an incorrigible Dev Anand fan-cum-mimic. Dear directors of Johnny Lever films, THIS is how it’s done!

Elevating their work to a different level altogether is Lootera’s technical finesse. The colour and fire of Manikpur in the first half and the bleaker beauty of Dalhousie, where Lootera later travels, are stunning. Cinematographer Mahendra Shetty’s loving frames never once dwarf the film’s characters or their emotions… whether it’s a forlorn Varun walking down a desolate road as snow falls, or Pakhi seated alone on a bench while the yellow-red-and-orange leaves on a tree blaze in the background. The production design team recreates aristocratic households that are tranquil, even reclusive, but not in visible financial decline, with an eye for detail that enriches the film (I so want that ceiling pankha in the haveli in Manikpur!). All this would have been nothing though without the film’s startlingly detailed sound design (conversations in whispers, a grating asthmatic cough), and the breathtaking jugalbandi between musician Amit Trivedi and lyricist Amitabh Bhattacharya supplemented by a handful of classic film songs playing on the radio.

With Motwane at the helm, what this adds up to is a simple-yet-complex story well told. Motwane debuted with Udaan, which was about a troubled teenager and his abusive father. Lovely though it was, there were portions of Udaan where it felt like it was being needlessly slowed down to achieve a pre-determined pace. No such complaints about Lootera. The director juxtaposes the languorous lifestyle of a rich and much-loved daughter of a doting – and very obviously liberal – parent against the quiet desperation of a boy who has always known struggle both financially and emotionally. There’s neither over-statement nor under-statement here, just a resounding matter-of-factness.

The screenplay is filled with references to folklore, cinema, history. There’s even an edge-of-the-seat chase unpredictably thrown in. The atmospherics are marvellous. If I have a grievance, it is against the element drawn directly from O. Henry. Behrman in the original story was a failed artist who had yet to paint anything close to the masterpiece he kept claiming he would. Varun’s association with paint-and-canvas though is tenuous, which makes this film’s climax seem slightly contrived in contrast with the very poignant source material. This though does not alter the fact that Lootera is a masterful film. Zest and verve of the kind we get in Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani are what Bollywood romances usually aim for these days. Lootera is different. It’s reflective, gentle, lyrical and reads like a letter to our hearts.

Rating (out of five): ****

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
142 minutes (as per

(1) For the benefit of those who’ve not read it yet, I managed to locate O. Henry’s The Last Leaf  online:

(2) Since the film’s trailer was released, Amit Trivedi has faced accusations from some quarters that the background music in the teaser is copied from the 2011 Hollywood film One Day. When you hear the two trailers, the charge does seem valid, but having now heard the portion of the OST in Lootera from which those bars have been drawn for the teaser, I’m not so sure any more. In the meantime, reacting to the charge on the film blog moifightclub in March, Motwane wrote: “
Ok, to clarify – The music of the Lootera teaser trailer hasn’t been copied from One Day. The theme is sourced from a small musical bit composed by Amit Trivedi for a song that’s in the film, which we decided to expand and turn into a full fledged theme for the trailer. Unfortunately it ends up sounding a lot like One Day but I assure you that it’s coincidental.
When you (eventually) hear the song you will understand and see where the theme was born… I’m hoping this clarifies things somewhat, at least from my end…”

Like I said, I’m posting youtube links here to both the musical compositions in question and leaving you to decide. Let me know what you think:
(a) We Had Today by Rachel Portman from the OST of One Day starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess:
(b) The Lootera trailer:

Lootera poster courtesy:  


  1. Thankyou for the footnotes..I read the OHenry story earlier..But the OST bit I dint know till I saw the footnotes.. OMG both are similar..

  2. Anna, do U think that this movie has done any good for Ranveer Singh's career or more bad than good for his career? If the public would reject a classic like this then which actor in his right mind would say yes to a script like this one.
    Chitra Sharma