Indian romance turning a new leaf
Director: Vikramaditya Motwane
Actors: Ranveer Singh, Sonakshi Sinha
By Mayank Shekhar
This is a sentimental, impossibly romantic fantasy. God knows Bollywood has its unique way of dealing with that home-grown genre, one of the reasons it has managed to build passionate admirers of melodramatic super-stars – tragedy kings and queens, kings of romances etc—over generations and continents. This film’s scale is equally breathtaking in its own way.
Likewise, it consists of two young lovers–played by actors who are known for Yashraj films Band Baaja Baraat, Ladies Vs Vicky Behl (Ranveer Singh); and mainstream 100 crore type pictures, Son Of Sardar, Dabangg 2, Rowdy Rathore etc (Sonakshi Sinha). Surely you’re familiar with the template then. But you could do well not to walk into the theatre holding even vaguely similar kind of expectations. It will seriously do you no good.
Music and songs and dance, over stunning cinematography or choreography, is the food that nourishes our love for simpler than life Hindi romances. They easily conceal plots that are wholly lacking in drama (Barfi), or are relatively sub-standard (Aashiqui 2), or totally bizarre (Ranjhanaa). The audience doesn’t mind that much. They come away from the theatre humming some favourite numbers, generally appreciative of the hero’s histrionics on the screen.
This mainstream movie similarly has a stellar soundtrack, of course. There are some soothing songs. But no one lip-syncs to them. They play as background score. This automatically reduces the film’s length by at least half hour flat. The camera often freezes moments rather than bombarding images at the speed of thought. All this allows the actors few crutches to rest their talents or lack thereof on. The audience is forced to stare at them pretty much throughout. They ought to perform and evoke emotions.
They attempt the opposite of the expected melodrama instead, intentionally speaking softer than their original selves, keeping it remarkably restrained and real, toning their body language down to a point that it gets really hard to recognise the otherwise hyper-active Ranveer Singh. If it wasn’t for this film, we would’ve probably never known his surprising range. While he obviously plays the title role—the lootera, as it were—the lead character I suppose is the woman in the movie: Sonakshi Sinha, cleverly cast as the girl of a benevolent Bengali zamindar, blessed with astonishing depth, intellect, and capacity to love.
Hers is what you would call the old-world tragic romance. It is set between two seasons (probably fall, and winter), two locations (Dalhousie and rural Bengal), centred on a boy who ends up stealing a girl’s heart, though he only intended to steal her father’s wealth. She loves him first, hates him later, which is just as well. I suppose the opposite of love is indifference, not hatred. He affects her deeply still. Fewer characters mean less complexity. The boy has no parents. The girl has no one but her father. You end up empathising with the hero as well, hoping that he could get together with her, which is odd. He’s an unscrupulous robber. Yet, at no point had he consciously faked his love.
This makes the film seem a striking cross between Talented Mr Ripley or Matchpoint (about a slick crook) and The Notebook (about eternal love), though it’s entirely unlike all three. The filmmakers have credited an O Henry short-story The Last Leaf as inspiration. There is very little resemblance between the O Henry plot and this picture, which is also a thriller for a fair part.
The filmmakers painstakingly place this parable in 1953, right after Indian independence when the zamindari system, at least in Bengal, is on its way out. What follows is a series of aesthetically crafted scenes and emotions. God is in the detail, so is a good film–this is director Vikramaditya Motwane’s second. His resume on IMDb.com lists him as writer (Dev.D), sound designer (Devdas), choreographer (Water), editor, cinematographer (short film Shanu Taxi), “director of song” (Paanch)…. It’s great I guess to have worked your way to the top. Most directors don’t. His command over craft clearly shows. His first film Udaan (2010) was both a commercial success and an entry at Cannes. It’s the kind of reception Bollywood films would get back in the 1950s (Awaara, Do Bhiga Zameen ….).
Those films exuded a certain self-assured thehraav, and a love for language, words, even quieter emotions. As does this film.