I have been meaning to write about some wonderful film pieces that have touched my soul in the recent past — namely Ship of Thesus, Ankhon Dekhi, and The Lunchbox.
I thought I would use this long Labor Day weekend to write Motwane’s labor of love that is Lootera.
Set in 1950’s, Varun Srivastav assumes the role of an archaeologist in Pakhi’s home, though he is a thief in reality, as well as in matters of the heart.
When I first heard about the movie’s inspiration from the Last Leaf and images of a withering tree in the promo, I could already guess the ending. Even then, Lootera has such moving visuals of tragedy and yesteryear romance, interspersed with soulful melodies that it charts its own trajectory in the space of love stories.
The sexual tension is easily palpable between the two star-struck lovers but there is not one instance of vulgarity in the foliage of love scenes.
When Bollywood is undoubtedly plagued by eye-gouging portrayal of love as seen in senseless Akshay Kumar and Khan rowdy romance, Motwane’s ode to O’Henry provides a welcome relief.
Just as Pakhi is standing on a flight of stairs as a glowing Bengali bride and sees her father lying down in utter despair, Motwane cuts to Varun’s shrewd face. This scene matched by the haunting music of betrayal in the background is what cinematic brilliance is all about.
Varun deserts Pakhi on the day of their blissful union as husband and wife. Not only does he leave her broken-hearted beyond repair but aides his Uncle in stealing the rich coffers of Pakhi’s zamindar father. It is an act that transcends forgiveness.
Even then, Varun was correct in his own stance, Pakhi in hers.
Pakhi is a ‘maharani’ of her father’s heart and lives in such affluent splendor by virtue of her father’s past princely status. She has rarely experienced the poverty of the body and mind that Varun had to live through in his youth when his “Chacha” turned him into an accomplice of his crimes. Varun as the ideal vagabond who not only steals for a living but stole the heart of the titular princess lays the foundation of soulful love, hurt, and suffering between the two protagonists.
The musical score dished out by Amit Trivdei (of Aamir, Udaan, and Dev D fame) is heart-rending; akin to stabbing your soul repeatedly with a knife and sowing it back on your own accord. To listen to the soundtrack penned by Amitabh Bhattacharya (especially Zinda Hoon Yaar, Shikayatein) is to invoke suppressed feelings of your pain and sorrow. Manmarziya etches out the birth of romance on a heart’s whim. Monta Re is a beautiful Bengali rendition and Sawaar Loon sings the tune of any woman who is trying to win the love of a man in all her beauty and innocence.
It was refreshing to see a movie where the lady was trying to vie for the hero with such grace rather than the hero groping and harassing her as seen in mainstream flicks.
Pakhi is inextricably drawn towards Varun the moment she sees him recovering at the hospital.
The small ways Pakhi holds Varun’s hand, leans in for a kiss after one their painting sessions, abruptly stops her car to cry after confronting Varun at the excavation site, and knocks on his door at night to rekindle their romance is heartwarming.
Pakhi has a pitiful presence due to her prolonged illness and the unconditional love that Varun displays by agreeing to paint with her, giving her medication, and carrying her home demonstrates how love can make even the burliest of hearts, vulnerable.
He shared his most cherished dream of painting something everyone will remember.
True love may heal the most tormented soul but heartbreak from such a love can sow the seeds for it as well which is evident in the way Pakhi resents Varun and struggles to write in her Dalhousie home, post-separation.
She pours out immense anger, regret and pain on the white pages, beckoning her to cut them with the wield of her old-fashioned pen, crumple them up and start on a fresh page all over again. Her wastebasket is full of such attempts; her creative spirit torn by her lootera lover.
When Varun re-enters her life, broken and bruised, and takes shelter in her home, she cannot fathom even the slightest ounce of love for him. The least she can do is let him live by not telling the officer about his whereabouts. As Pakhi states – “Main usko maarna nahi chahti, bas bhoolna chahti hoon.”
Once can reason as to why someone stays or departs from your life – “meant to be” for the former, and “I deserve better” for the latter. In matters of destiny, such rationales only serve to placate the heart. Once two hearts connect, any pain inflicted on one naturally affects the other.
Varun discovers that he now has one solid chance for redemption. His journey is short-lived as he is the prime target of the local police but he makes sure to erase the one regret that kept breaking his soul – deserting Pakhi.
As he makes his way out of her home to escape in the harsh winter, the low-angle shot of Varun’s face as he takes a U-turn on the note of “Parindon ne bhi wafa jaani” is stunning. Bhattacharya’s lyrics — “Andheron ko baahon main leke, ujjale ne ab ghar basaya hai” from Shikayatein are brilliant as Varun realizes his change of heart to care for Pakhi till his dying breath.
It makes me wonder what would have happened if he never read the letter left in the open by Pakhi. The letter expressed her most intimate thoughts; that she was getting weaker with every falling leaf and perhaps, Varun derived satisfaction from her misery. That such a prop of writing for necessary to light the blub of remorse in his head is a significant flaw in his character. What good a man who cannot realize his mistakes on his own? Nonetheless, the story continues in the harsh Himachal climate, an apt setting for a depressed Pakhi and a changed Varun, who lights the fireplace in her home and renewed hope in her heart.
At first Pakhi is hesitant to take in any of his warmth, his meals, and care for her health. After such a painful separation that led to the demise of her father, which woman wouldn’t be? Gradually her heart melts the same way Varun did when he became vulnerable in their earlier days of romance.
He reveals his true identity and the truth that he always loved her. Every single second of his life, he harbored the regret for hurting her. In such intimate moments of their warm embrace in the midst of precious tears and laughter, their love triumphs once again.
Varun wins our heart by painting a new leaf on the tree that is withering much the same as Pakhi. In the end, he gives hope to Pakhi to live on and his leaf painting fulfills his dream to be remembered forever in the masterpiece that is Lootera.