Short stories work best as short films. There is a certain brevity and inherent pace that must not be tampered with. Especially, if the source material relies on an O Henry ending.
O Henry’s short stories, especially The Last Leaf, that Lootera is based on, have the structure of a joke. It’s all about the punchline. You need to say it with all the detail you can, keep your audience wondering and before they know it, deliver that last line with sweet timing and get out of there.
The good news is that Vikramaditya Motwane’s Lootera delivers that last line with perfection.
If only the makers had kept the rest of the storytelling equally tight and gripping. Thanks to the concept of the interval, our films need two climactic twists. One for the interval point and one for the ending. With the spoiler of a title, the interval point here is really not much of a twist. And how riveted you can be for 70 minutes waiting for that titular reveal has everything to do with your patience level and affinity for gorgeously framed images.
The film does work in moments — like when Varun (Ranveer Singh) tries to teach Pakhi (Sonakshi Sinha) how to draw leaves in her painting, or when she confronts him about his feelings for her, the gripping chase in the second half and the last leaf in the climax.
Imagine Kunal Kohli’s Fanaa adapted for the 1950s, better done, restrained but with the slowish pretension of a wannabe classic. Fine period detailing and tragedy alone don't make for a classic.
If stories of dying people make for a classic, the “no smoking” ads before films are classics. “Afsos Mukesh Bachch Na Saka”.
This is a film where you can see that the director learnt his craft from the Bhansali school of grandeur, decadence and drama, but the film also wants to employ Kashyap’s minimalist, slice-of-life matter-of-factness and restraint in the same story. It’s not an easy rope walk and but no points for trying that. Because this results in many moments of complete dissonance. The background score spells out and underlines every emotion, while the performances are understated.
To be fair to the cast, Ranveer Singh and Sonakshi Sinha do an earnest job, keeping the performances completely real. Sonakshi especially turns in a career best, while Adil Hussain, Arif Zakaria and Barun Chanda bring in a lot of credibility to the characters.
This is the kind of film you might get bored watching in the theatres but find your mom crying to, when it plays on TV. Maybe it’s generation gap, maybe a threshold for patience...
But I found myself restless in my seat, bored by the indulgence of a filmmaker to turn what seemed like a short, fun story with a smart twist on paper into an unwarranted drama with epic delusions of tragedy.