'Lootera' was released on home video earlier this month. A cinephile plays a 'late cut' to appreciate it.
Is it possible to revamp a simple, unpretentious short story - even if it is by the master of irony - and come up with a 140-minute feature film, that too a period drama? That was the question in my mind when I came to know that Lootera was to be an adaptation of O. Henry’s The last leaf.
However, once I realised that the team behind it was the trio of Amitabh Bhattacharya, Amit Trivedi and Vikramaditya Motwane, I knew the take wouldn’t have disappointed O. Henry. For, hadn’t they brought a poetic sublimity - with songs providing the impetus - to a small town boy’s leap-of-faith tale in their earlier venture Udaan? And just in case of Udaan, it took me a while to recognise the value of this movie. I watched it on Home Video when it released early this month.
The result here, though less sublime, is surely poetic, right from the title. Why the two ‘o’s [in Lootera] rather than a ‘u’ - that too the two woven together, with the first 'o' bigger than the second, reminding you of an eclipse? Is there a hint of some creative soul being shackled, just like that of the lead character in Udaan? Or is it mere aesthetic flourish?
Even if it is the former, I am not surprised. In the year 1953, in her palatial mansion, Pakhi (Sonakshi Sinha - she should thank the makers for giving her such a beautiful name) is cocooned in the couch of affluence, needing a leap of faith to gain creative depth. Her only source of depth, amid mind-numbing luxury, is her own chronic illness.
Till she encounters someone who would bring her in touch with her own aesthetic depth. An archaeologist who, well, would go on to discover his own human depth. Doesn’t hawa ke jhonke aaj mausamon se rooth gaye hint at a break from her lethargy of riches?
The archaeologist Varun (Ranveer Singh) is also bound by his own mysterious past - he has learnt nothing but, well, archaeology. He, too, somewhere, wants to break away from this his preordained present and paint his own masterpiece, ironically, at a location pretty near to where Pakhi wants to pursue her writing.
Pakhi’s father Zamindar Soumitra Roychowdhury (Barun Chandra) is, of course, a prisoner of the imperial past, refusing to recognise the reality that princely states are to be embedded into a bigger Indian Union. This, even six years after Independence.
I felt the trio of Amitabh-Amit and Vikramaditya, aided by Anurag Kashyap and others, have created a tale of a last leaf and another half of it out of The last leaf. For, the first last-leaf - Raichand’s love for his daughter - is snatched away in the first half. He dies, not because of the effortless plunder of his riches, but because his daughter’s life has been taken for granted. Just like the Bheel Raja who was deceived into leading the spy to his parrot, in which he had insured his life.
It is in the second half where the makers make it a point to conjure up another last leaf, though they leave it half way, perhaps deliberately. Varun comes in from the cold, literally, back into Pakhi’s life. Pakhi has never really been able to forget him, no matter how much she tries. She gives herself an affirmation that she doesn’t want revenge, retribution. She just wants closure.
But does closure lie in forgetting the past? A calm Inspector K. N. Singh — a name that would instantly remind cinephiles of the equally debonair yesteryear villain in Debonair Anand’s films like Baazi, Jaal and CID — leaves on hearing this. Here we are treated to “yaad kiya dil ne kahaan ho tum… jhoomti bahaar hai kahaan ho tum” from Patita. She can’t help recalling him. For hasn’t he provided her the aesthetic depth needed for her writing? More than her love interest, he is her muse. How can she carry on writing knowing that it depended on him? And that trying to forget him would lead her to a creative block?
She summons her muse by conspiring to create a booby trap. Later, in a moment that would have done O. Henry proud, she also conspires to safeguard him from that very trap, though she doesn’t have the courage to admit it to herself. It is in these moments that the screenplay becomes somewhat slow, the dialogues more loud than poignant. One reason I found it that way is it brought back memories of that sloth of a movie, Fanaa.
However, the final 15-20 minutes, where the screenplay’s dots are joined without a dialogue being spoken, made sure that I suspend my dislike for the earlier parts. The lyricist-musician-director creative trio know the subtle art of communication - to the point of perfection - through songs. In fact, the scenes which have songs in the background add poignance much more than those where the narrative is dialogue-driven. If Udaan ended with a sense of uncertainty lingering in the minds of the viewer (kahaani khatm hai, ya shuruaat hone ko hai?), Lootera climaxes in ankahee, a feeling of the tale being left untold, or perhaps half told.
In the earlier song, Mujhe chod do, while the artist is completing his 'masterpiece', the song goes,
“...mere haathon jo hua kissa shuru, use poora to karna hai mujhe, / kabr par sar utha kar khadi ho zindagi, aise marna hai mujhe.”
Having got disgusted of himself because of his past, he wishes to create a monument, a masterpiece in the present, so that a part of him feels proud, stays alive even after he has died. He is interested in finding closure in doing his bit and surrendering himself to Lady Death, so that Lady Life feels proud while laying wreath to his grave. He is not interested in finding out whether Pakhi finishes her side of the tale.
This is also brought out through another line in a different song, looteron ko baghban banaayein. His brief stay in the guesthouse converts him from a marauder to a mason. He wants to make that one final effort, giving Pakhi a glimmer of hope, some inspiration, his final stroke as a muse.
He completes his own tour d’force but leaves the creator’s tale untold, perhaps intentionally. He is not the sadomasochistic Devdas but the all-conquering muqaddar ka sikandar.