Lootera, is an adaptation of O Henry’s 1907 short story The Last Leaf. Director Vikramaditya Motwane weaves this beautiful tale into 1950’s Zamindari Bengal, when a conman posing as an archaeologist falls in love with the daughter of an aristocrat, played respectively by Ranveer Singh and Sonakshi Sinha, in the roles I personally feel have been the best in either of their careers. An incredible visual delight, each frame could be a painting, thanks to Mahendra Shetty’s camerawork.
Sonakshi Sinha, unlike her regular choice of roles, is resplendent as Pakhi Roy Choudhary, fitting into the era with her beautiful choice of sarees and elegant makeup. Her characterisation as the daughter of a wealthy Zamindar is not only incredibly well executed, but the film also shows her varied range—the stark contrast in the second act is definitely one worth noting. The suffering that Pakhi goes through in Dalhousie, coming to the realisation of the impending end of her life as she gets diagnosed with TB, and the subsequent reuniting with Varun is conveyed through Sinha’s incredible character building, as well as the intelligent use of music to supplement thought.
I am very fascinated with the music in cinema. Amit Trivedi’s 2013 found his Magnum Opus in Lootera. It’s a soundtrack that follows the film elegantly, but had every potential to have been an incredible standalone album. Critically acclaimed, critics had noted that Trivedi and the lyricist, Amitabh Bhattacharya, have created a “masterpiece they could live off of all their lives.”
And rightly so. The music has aged like fine wine, as elegant as the film itself—there are no dance numbers, nothing grotesque-ly “Bollywood”. With gentle guitar strums in Zinda, to the old-world charm of Sawaar Loon, or the incorporation of Baul Sangeet in Monta Re, or the recent favourite I’ve found in Shikaayatein (complaints). Perhaps it has to do with my own state of mind, one that tries to absorb whatever mistakes I have made, in a frantic attempt to forgive myself.
The end of Pakhi’s life looms in the second half. It’s very evident by the stark paradigm shift in her behaviour—from the lively girl in Manikpur to the broken soul trapped in the cabin in Dalhousie. Wafts of her former self float across the screen when she writes, the same passion and anger flowing through her fingertips to translate into ink on paper, but more often than not, she’s a shell of her former self.
I’ve found myself in a similar state over these four months, perhaps why I’ve put off writing about Lootera. This feeling of being a shell of my former self—I’m in a constant state of panic, anxiety attacks setting in at any given trigger. I barely sleep. But the most frightening thing was that becoming someone who struggles to get more than 4-5 hours of sleep a night wasn’t an overnight phenomenon—I’ve been trapped like this, in the high walls of my own mind, for close to a year now.
My former study/work patterns could have led to why I may be like this—studying at a highly competitive college environment taught me that time was not to be wasted—if we sat for a minute to breathe, someone else was going to use that same minute to get a step ahead of you. As a result, I spent close to 15-16 hours a day in front of my laptop, jumping from project to project. It just took incredible solitude to confront it. Over the last few months, my usually extremely busy person has had to confront all my demons in this one—white walled bedroom that once belonged to my paternal grandmother. Locked down alone in a house I don’t know, with grandparents who are even less familiar with the surrounding areas and high-risk to falling ill, I’ve had to take over handling everything here.
From grocery runs, emergency medication, to electricity shortages, running up and down 4 flights of stairs up to 30 times in the span of a rainy night, to try and find a way to illuminate the house. It took a toll on my inexperienced person. I fought incessantly with my parents, screaming at them, blaming for what’s happened. But really, it was just my having to bear with the weight of all of the trauma I’ve dealt with. Previously, I’d shut it away and get to working. Eventually, I took on even more work—I’d just keep my mind occupied, because whatever this was, it ate me alive.
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The matter of the fact is, I couldn’t accept whatever trauma I had already been through. I made questionable choices, holding on to whatever little joy I had in my life, without considering the consequences. As a result, more pain followed. It was at the height of this second wave, that mental health became a trending topic across India. But this time, instead of being able to glance at the trending tabs on Twitter and forget about it, I felt it squarely hit me on my chest. I was drowning in my suffering. Work was the one way I could cope, but I hadn’t made any progress there either. I just existed, staring at the walls of my bedroom, working till 3 or 4 in the morning.
But much like my own story, Lootera is as much about love as it is about the power of thought and faith. Whether it be Zamindar Babu, Pakhi or Varun—all the 3 of them had been attached to their metaphorical totas, or parrots, who held their life essences in them. For me, it meant dealing with my problems head on—I wept and screamed at these same walls for hours until I finally grew the courage to whisper “I need help”. For both Zamindar Babu and Varun, their end had been for Pakhi. The former’s death is conveyed as being due to heartbreak, unable to face the sadness that will permanently taint his beautiful daughter’s face after being betrayed in marriage.
Pakhi, at the loss of Varun and her father, retreat to the cold of Dalhousie, leaving behind her memories of Manikpur in the old haveli, attempting to write away her sorrows. She grew an affection for a tree that grew outside her window, and as her health worsened, she decided that she would choose to no longer continue living (insinuating possible suicide) once the last leaf falls. Varun’s character arc comes full circle—although selfish at first, he finally learns to paint a leaf that Pakhi would believe would still be attached to the tree, so that she wouldn’t lose hope in living.
Lootera is not a love story for everyone—Motwane’s idea of a happy ending is vastly different to the conventional tropes of a Bollywood romance. It’s not a girl and boy meet, they fall in love, face problems, overcome them and run to catch a speeding train. This is a slow burner, a quietly intense, meaningful love story—one that teaches you about life and love, while keeping you gripping to your seat throughout, both with its thrilling chase sequences as well as flavourful storyline.
But Lootera is as much of a story about personal growth as much as it is a love story. Pakhi’s character arc from being a beautiful, naive young girl in love, to a heartbroken woman with her guard up, to finally feeling liberated, ready to take life on is a magical one to experience.
As I must always state, due credit to both cinematography as well as Trivedi’s score, for capturing Varun and Pakhi in the right lighting. It be a stream of sunlight that flicker past Pakhi’s eyes when she sees Varun across the courtyard as Manmarziyan plays, the determination with which Varun tries to redeem himself echoed by Zinda, or whether it be the shadows of time that have aged the lovers, when they reunite.
As lockdown slowly eases, the power of exceptional thought and faith is one I’m still figuring out. I’m extremely lucky—I managed to fly back and come home before my semester begun online. While locked down, I missed the mundane things of being at home. The familiar foliage leading up to my apartment, the strange owl décor my mother has filled the home with, or my little sister’s hugs.
But I also understand that even here, I’m yet to feel safe and sound. Hence, I’ve started doing things that make me feel safe. I started going to the gym, I’ve begun therapy again. If nothing, Lootera taught me the power of an idea, the importance of these recognisable mediums to help build my own tota, one that gives me reason to feel strong and move forward.