Saturday, November 22, 2014

Lootera — Of Giving A Closer Look


I don't know why but I love Lootera a lot. I can watch this film any number of times. I saw it again and saw new interpretations of some elements of the film. As always, I over-analyze but movies are our interpretations, no?

One of the themes that I felt was implicitly expressed in the film was the one of betrayal and the lack of trust. Although the title Lootera means a thief, and it referred to Varun's (Ranveer Singh's) profession of 'looting', but I felt this was also implying about the film's larger theme of looting someone's trust. Pakhi's (Sonakshi Sinha's) father placed immense trust in the government that it would not snatch the property of the zamindars, but he was mistaken and the government did pass the act abolishing the zamindari system. He felt betrayed by the government. At one point, Pakhi says to KN Singh (Adil Hussain) that her father did not die because unhe kisi ne loot liya tha but because Varun ne unka dil toda tha, unhe dhokha diya tha. He did not die because Varun looted her father's prized possessions, but because he looted his trust. Even the bheel raja story that Pakhi's father narrates to her is about a king who is duped into marriage and, then, betrayed by a beautiful woman, and who, then, finds about the parrot in whom the king had confined his life. And, of course, Pakhi's own story is about betrayal. She was ditched by someone whom she loved immensely. Varun looted her innocence, her beauty, her talent, even her health. She cannot write a single page and all she does is throw them into garbage after scribbling a few lines. She coughs blood and is suffering from tuberculosis. Earlier, she was so excited by the electric bulb that she was charmed by it, continuously switching it on and off, and now she does the same but completely lifeless. Varun broke her, and it is only when he comes back that she is able to write, and her health starts getting better as if his love heals her. That is why the film's larger narrative was not only about physical theft, but more so about the emotional theft. Even in the beginning of the film, the Ram-Leela scenes talk about Vibhishan — the man who betrayed Ravan.

Sometime ago, I saw Satyajit Ray's iconic Charulata and, finally, realized why it is called one of the greatest films of Indian cinema. It is a beautiful story which is less about the words spoken, and more about the thoughts of the characters. It requires a heart to understand the meaning of the film. I realized that there are numerous similarities between Pakhi of Lootera and Charu of Charulata. Both the films are set in upper class Bengali household around the time of the independence. Charu and Pakhi are two lonely women, and these films narrate their stories. It is here that I finally understood the significance of the magnifying glass scene in Lootera. At one point, Varun is having a conversation with Pakhi's father. Pakhi is standing behind her father and she has a pair of magnifying glasses and she uses them to look at Varun. There are many interpretations of the scene. One of them is that the magnifying glasses make her eyes look like those of Durga. I felt this was also a reference to Charulata. In Charulata, in the beginning, Charu (Madhabi Mukherjee) uses a pair of binoculars to observe an ordinary Bengali man walking on the streets through her window. Since she cannot go out, she tries to bring the charm of an ordinary life closer to her, in contrast to her stifled traditional life. Later, she is sitting on a swing, and even though Amal (Soumitra Chatterjee) is just a few steps from her, she looks at him through the binoculars, as if she is trying to bring him closer to her. She cannot do that in her real life because falling in love with your husband's cousin would be blasphemous. So, all she can do is bring him closer through the metaphor of the binoculars. In the same way, Pakhi uses a pair of magnifying glasses. 

There is always going to be some distance between Varun and Pakhi because of the unspoken rules of the society. She can only stealthily look at him from behind the curtains. There is a scene when both of them click a picture together using a Kodak camera, and even though they want to sit closer to each other, they really cannot, and sit a few inches apart. She goes to his room when he is not there and wears his cap and smells his jacket as if trying to feel his body. Therefore, she is using a pair of magnifying glasses giving Varun a closer look and trying to bring him closer. The magnifying glasses become a symbol to reduce the physical and emotional distance between the two of them. If we observe, the scene finds a resonance in the film's poster which has two overlapping Os that are a replica of the image formed with the two magnifying glasses. It is a subtle placement, and it shows Vikramaditya Motwane wants us to look closer at the film. I also felt another reference to Charulata. Amal writes two stories in Charulata — The Light of the Moonless Night and Dark of the Sun. Lootera's song Ankahee has the lyrics that goes kya kabhi savera, lata hai andhera — can morning ever bring in the darkness? — like the title of Amal's stories. 

As I had written earlier in this post, there is an element of transformation of the mood of the film from a cheerful one in the first half to a cold one in the second half. There is also an element of reciprocity in the film. Pakhi is driving the car and she hits Varun's motorcycle and she hurts him and gives him an external wound. In due time, she will also break Varun by giving him an internal wound. Varun will not want to be the hardened criminal anymore and instead he wants to start a new life with her. Reciprocally, Varun also wounds Pakhi. He breaks her heart. He also changes her. He brings physical and emotional pain to her. She is changed from bubbly to dull and someone who does not want to live anymore, as opposed to Varun who wanted a new life. Pakhi teaches Varun the art of painting leaves — a metaphor for love. She loves him. Varun reciprocates her by painting a masterpiece and proves his love for her because as he says, "Mera zindagi me istemaal sab ne kiya, pyaar sirf tumne kiya." He comes back when he was trying to run away so that he can he can repay her by healing her and taking care of her. They both hurt each other and their love heals each other. They reciprocate the pain and the love. They sing the same poems, and they share a deep intrinsic love, like Radha-Kishna, the idol that is kept in her father's family temple. They do not require words to communicate because they do it through silence.

There is one element about the film that I am still trying to explore. about the multiple identities of Varun. He is called many names in the film, such as Vijay, and Varun. It is only later that we find that his real name is Atmanand Tripathi. At one point, Pakhi mocks him by saying that he is an avatar of Lord Vishnu. The meaning of Atmanand is also Vishnu. Just like Vishnu had many avatars, Varun had multiple identities. At an earlier point, Varun and Pakhi recite a poem by Baba Nagarjuna. The word Nagarjuna also means Krishna. Krishna was one avatar of Vishnu as well. Interestingly, when they are praying in the temple after Varun robs them, it is Krishna's head that falls off from the idol — was that referring to Varun's fall from grace as well? That is why I feel there is some link between Krishna's idol and Varun.

One special mention of Barun Chanda who plays Pakhi's father. He is simply brilliant in the film. 

Books In Movies:
Pakhi not only reads Godaan by Premchand, but also Kobigantha by Dwarkanath Ganguly. I cannot find details of the book though. 

Watching Lootera brought me some momentary calmness. The lines that Pakhi writes in the letter, "Sab kuch peeche chhod kar aayi thi, sab bhool jaane. Pata nahi kyun tum waapas aagaye, pata nahi kyun maine aane diya," are etched in my memory. I love these lines. Maybe I will watch it again to understand more about this masterpiece. 

Earlier thoughts on the film in this post.

Dialogue of the day:
"Koi mayna hai mera aapki zindagi me? Mujhe pyaar karte hain, Varun Babu? Mera dil rakhne ke liye to haan bol dijiye."
— Pakhi, Lootera


  1. I must tell you I do not usually post a comment ,upon reading something... But reading this review , I could not stop myself from doing the unusual , and I desperately wanted to...Cause the depth with which you have watched the movie and enlightened us with the same ...That this deserves a great deal of applause ... It won't be an exagerration to say that " this made my day!" and added new depths to my previous understanding of the movie ... A Masterpiece!!....


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