Saturday, July 06, 2013


Day of Bengal

When every other non-mainstream filmmaker in Bollywood is aspiring to be Martin Scorsese or Quentin Tarantino, here’s a young filmmakers from the same school who tries to go the way of Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen and Rituparno Ghosh. There are the Charulata moments, the Khandhar moments and drama happening in old Bengal baadis (mansions) that was such a Ghosh obsession. There seems to be a trace of The Bengali Night too.

Audiences in urban areas today, particularly the type that frequent multiplexes, are so unused to a tradition of slow, period romances that they might be startled into either loving it or rejecting it outright.

The 1950s and its mores are also so alien to Motwane and his young protagonists, that they may get the ‘look’ right and set the tone by playing film songs of that period in the background, but there is still a feeling of watching kids playing at fancy dress.

To deal with repressed emotions and passion of that period, needed a Raj Kapoor or Bimal Roy—think Aah or Bandini—and though Motwane tries his best and so do the actors Ranveer Singh and Sonakshi Sinha, even channelling an O’Henry climax doesn’t touch the heart or cause the eye to tear up to a catharsis that such a story ought to have evoked. See Barun Chanda playing the dignified zamindar and the heroine’s father, to understand what acting is all about. Or Adil Hussain as the world-weary cop KN Singh (a nod to the famous character actor of the time) expressing so much with just his voice.

However, the film is not without its merits, and that it was allowed to be made at all on such a lavish scale, in the time of lumpen-pleasing films by the very producers who make them, is a minor miracle in itself.  Motwane does handle the first half of the story with delicacy, humour and affection for his heroine.

Pakhi (Sinha) is the pampered daughter of a Zamindar who dotes on her and bows to her every whim. When a man claiming to be an archaeologist lands up at their mansion, he is welcomed and offered all help.  Varun (Singh) is a charmer and Pakhi is immediately enamoured. To find a way to meet him without censure, she pretends to learn painting from him, though she has been educated at Santiniketan and knows more about art than he does.

A romance develops while there is tumult around. Post Independence, socialism being the political stance then, zamindari is abolished; while losing his land causes Pakhi’s father much anguish, it is the betrayal by Varun, the stealing of priceless artefacts and the humiliation of his daughter abandoned on the day of her engagement, that kills the dignified old man.

The already ill Pakhi moves to the family’s summer home in Dalhousie—the outside as desolate as her broken heart. The local cop KN Singh wants her help to catch the gang of thieves who prey on weakened royalty.  Pakhi knows Varun will show up and keeps a silent vigil. When he does arrive, and pursued by the cops, ends up hiding at her home, she shows anger but also a curious indifference to having the man punished.  For Varun, it is a time to atone and seek redemption. Those who know O’Henry’s The Last Leaf, can guess how it ends, those who don’t will probably not be all that surprised, because of the foreshadowing. But the end is abrupt and tagged on, without adequate build up.

Sonakshi Sinha, who has so far played the typical hip-swinging Bollywood heroine, does the second half with a deglam look and a stillness that has almost been lost in mainstream cinema. She keeps interest in the film alive, even after the languid  pace and scattered screenplay has started to kick in boredom.  Ranveer Singh brings out the conflict of his character to some extent, but Varun is obviously out of his range.

The production design is splendid, and Mahendra Shetty’s cinematography painterly. The music is pleasing, though the background score could have been used with some restraint.

Because Lootera is a clutter-breaker, so good-looking and made with such an eagerness to please, it deserves a look, but be prepared to be underwhelmed... because masterpieces happen, they are not planned.


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