After waiting for eons to watch Lootera, I got a chance to see it today. I really do not know how to express my feelings for Lootera because it touched me immensely. I have to say that one thing Lootera did for me was it made me feel terribly lonely. There is an underlying melancholy and loneliness in the film that drew me towards it. Like the utter loneliness of an old zamindar trying to hold onto the last bits of his fiefdom, or the haunting loneliness of a love-stricken girl ditched by her lover, or the inescapable loneliness of a man trying to break the shackles of his fraudulent living ways. There is an inherent feeling of calmness; a better word would be thehrav that the film is resplendent with. It is one of those rare films that depict despair and desperation in gorgeous ways, underscoring that sadness has its own sophistication and beauty.
If I have to summarize Lootera, it is essentially the story of Pakhi and her quest for finding love. Pakhi, the daughter of a zamindar living in a post-independent Bengal, is a feisty woman. She is fascinated by new things. Like her love for driving a car without learning driving, or her excitement at switching on and off a light bulb, or her curiosity of looking through a magnifying glass, or her instant attraction towards a new man who arrives on an archaeology expedition. She even has the guts to check the pockets of the man whom she hurts in a car accident. She has been used to a protected and a sheltered life and, perhaps, has not seen a lot of failure or rejection. Then, Varun arrives who changes all this. And, they gradually fall in love.
Some of the most beautiful moments of the film are about their courtship. They sit down together near the lake and share their dreams. She wants to be a writer and wishes to settle down in Dalhousie. Varun is an aspiring painter. He carries a blank canvas wherever he goes. Someday he wishes to paint a masterpiece, although he does not even know how to paint a leaf. Pakhi teaches Varun the art of painting, and in the process, draws him to close to her.
There are some tender moments between Varun and Pakhi. There is one when where she gently directs the brush in his hand to bring finesse to the painting. Another lovely one is when they click their picture together on a sofa with some distance between them. One more I loved is when they both together recite the poem ‘Kai Dino Ke Baad’ by Baba Nagarjun. Their silent longing smiles when ‘Sawar Loon’ plays in the background are beautiful. Since she cannot get close to him physically, she goes to his room and smells his jacket, his cap, and his Winston cigarettes as if these would bring closer to him in some way.
She silently stands behind the curtains and watches him when he shaves. I loved these parts of the film. But this painting of life is not to remain forever. It is only an illusion. Varun is a lootera of not only her heart in a metaphorical way but also someone who belongs to a gang of thieves that loot the treasures of the zamindars, given to them by the East India Company. Varun realizes that he has no future with her and he leaves her. Pakhi faces her first real rejection in life, something that she could never get over with which silently also kills her from inside. At the point, when Varun does not turn up for their painting lesson, she confronts him and asks him whether he will come kal, parson, tarson, narson. He then says to her that he is leaving next week and then she confronts him if he ever loved her at all. Her desperation is palpable and then she says, "Mera dil rakhne ke liye to haan bol dijiye." This fear of being loved, whether it is true or false, whether she meant something to him or not, mera kuch mayna hai aapki zindagi me is palpable to anyone who has faced a similar situation in life. Later, when she meets him in Dalhousie, she asks him this same question that if he had ever loved her truly. She cannot move on until she gets an answer to this. Maybe that is why she refused to call the police when Varun comes and stays with her again. She wanted answers. And, it is in the final moments of the film that she finally got an answer that she had been waiting all her life.
She is joyous and ecstatic at that point, maybe, even forgets that Varun is dead. The painted leaf that Varun had been putting on the tree for the last few days was her tota from the bheel raja story. She had thought when the last leaf of the tree falls, she will die at that moment. However, Varun's painting of masterpiece gave her the answer that she had been wanting to know all the while. It was even more cathartic for Pakhi because it was a leaf, something Varun did not have an iota of a painting skill for. She had only taught him how to paint a leaf, which was a metaphor for their love. By putting this leaf not only did he give her a hope to continue living life, but also in many ways did his final act of redemption. As he had told her, he hates himself for what he did to her. It was only Pakhi who had truly loved him. Mera zindagi me istemaal sab ne kiya, pyaar sirf tumne kiya. Perhaps, that is why Lootera became more than a sum of its parts for me. It gave me an emotional high, although it did not make me cry. This feeling of being truly loved by someone is an act of seduction. Pakhi might not have lived for long after that, but she would have got the satisfaction that some of the best moments of her life were true. She can live her entire life just with those memories now.
Vikramaditya Motwane, who was an assistant director to Sanjay Leela Bhansali at one time, has taken inspiration from his mentor to etch subtle details. I loved the placement of curtains, the mosquito nets, and the roadside shrines that were covered with a red cloth. There is a shift in the color tone of the film from a warm radiance in the first half to a gloomy, cold ambience, mirroring the shift in Pakhi’s heart.
At one point in the film, Varun’s friend Dev talks about Baazi–a film starring Dev Anand. In fact, there were many other references to Dev Anand. In the second half, Pakhi says to him tum koi Dev Anand nahi, KN Singh tumhe mar dalega. To go in more details, the villain in that film was the real life actor KN Singh. Baazi also dealt with some morality and ethical choices that the hero of the film. At another point, the song Tadbeer se bigdi hui taqdeer bana le from the same film plays on the radio. Motwane has said in an interview that he modeled Varun’s character after Dev Anand and James Dean.
Tadbeer se bigdi hui taqdeer bana le
KN Singh (The Illustrated Weekly of India Magazine, too)
Lootera also pays a tribute to some old literay and arts masters. Pakhi and Varun together recite a lovely poem by Baba Nagarjun titled as ‘Kai Dino Ke Baad’.
Kai dino tak chulha roya chakki rahi udaas,
Kai dino tak kani kutiya soyee uske paas,
Kai dino tak lagi bhitpar chipkiliyon ki gast,
Kai dino tak chulho ki bhi halat rahi shikast.
Daane aaye ghar ke andar bahut dino ke baad,
Dhuan utha aangan se upar bahut dino ke baad,
Dhamk uthi ghar ki ankhen bahut dino ke baad,
Kauvey ne khujlai paankhe bahut dino ke baad
In one scene, Pakhi’s room has a copy of Premchand’s epic novel Godaan. There is another book which I am not able to decipher but has a tile of gandha in its name.
In one instance, Dev tells Varun about his painting, "Naa tum Raja ho, naa Ravi Varma ho," referring to the famous painter Raja Ravi Varma. He also makes a mention of Ustad Allah Rakha Khan. At another instance in the movie, Yaad Kiya Dil Ne Kahan Ho Tum from Patita plays on the radio and pays a tribute to S.D. Burman. And, if these were not enough, there is also a tribute to Rossini when at one time ‘The Thieving Magpie’ overture plays in the haveli.
There is also a reference to Devdas as well.
And, of course, Motwane has actually credited O Henry’s The Last Leaf. I am sure I missed out many other references from other cinemas, particularly, from the Bengali cinema. Motwane has put in a whole collection of creative effort in putting these gems. At one point, he also shows us the magazine Illustrated Weekly of India which was the most famous magazine during that time.
One of my favorite scenes was when this painting comes. The imagery in the painting matches the external scene. I was simply fascinated by this meta-referencing. Jai Arjun Singh, however, explains further about the scene. "The juxtaposition of reality and artifice might lead one to ask: is the world of the zamindars a pretty picture that has nothing to do with real life? Or is it the other way around–is the modern world a gaudy simulacra, an imposition? And either way, can they exist in the same space?"
I also loved the direction in this scene. When Varun turns back, he is not walking but, actually, the camera is rolling giving us a feeling that something is forcing him to go back, something not under his control. He finally realizes that he needs to pay for his sins. He has to seek redemption. It is here his morality forces him, unlike earlier where he ran away. At one point earlier, Varun remarked to Pakhi that she has always got what she wanted in life. She has not seen the real world. But now something draws him back to her. Perhaps, it is time to give back the love.
It is not to say that Lootera is flawless. I did find some issues with it. It has been criticized because of its languid pacing. Baradwaj Rangan, in his review, criticized that he felt The Last Leaf plot was utterly unconvincing to him. I was fine with all this. My issue was regarding the simplicity of the narrative. Clearly, he has designed this film for a discerning audience. I would have liked if he had not explained everything in such detail. In one scene, Pakhi says that the tree is her tota from the bheel raja ki kahaani. I would have liked it more if Motwane had not told this explicitly and let me decipher that on my own. She was looking at the tree every day longingly. The state of the tree reflected the state of her life. In another scene, he explains that Varun had wanted to create a masterpiece. He plays that dialogue again in the background. In the final moments of the film, he again shows the scene when Varun was not able to paint a leaf but he did that finally. I would have been thrilled if he had let me think on my own. And, perhaps, I felt a bit irritated at this point–I had guessed that Varun had been going onto paint the leaf because the film shows us that every night he had been going somewhere with his colors. It was obvious. It would have been even more thrilling had he not shown these scenes and just shown his final act. It confirmed my thinking rather than surprising me, even though I have not heard of The Last Leaf before. I was slightly disappointed by this because, obviously, he has made the film for a certain section of the audience but if you have been concentrating all the while, you knew the twist was coming. There are other plot loopholes, rather I should say too many plot coincidences (like the letter which Varun sees when he is shot at and he realizes that the person at the guest house is Pakhi). But I can overlook these because the other good parts gave much to think and observe, the primary reasons why I am fascinated with movies.
The songs are particularly lovely. The imagery of the songs is in line with the mood of the film. I loved Sawaar Loon and Shikayatein.
Lootera made me really sad. The movie ends in a hope but somehow I ended up being absolutely hopeless about my own life. Lootera might not be a masterpiece, but it is deeply aching and painful at times, and it remains with you long after it has finished.
I only wish if I could learn to paint from a book that Varun uses. I wish I could put the entire photographs from the picture here. Will watch it again.
Dialogue of the Day:
"Sab kuch peeche chhod kar aayi thi, sab bhool jaane. Pata nahi kyun tum waapas aagaye, pata nahi kyun maine aane diya. Yun jab tum so rahe hote ho, main gala ghoot kar mar nahi dalti."