Vikramaditya Motwane made his directorial debut in 2010 with the incredible movie Udaan. His sophomore effort is Lootera (“Robber”), a film that is romantic, tragic, beautiful, and damned near perfect.
The story is set in the early 1950s, not long after Great Britain abdicated its control of India. Local governments are in the process of reclaiming and redistributing the wealth gifted by the British to aristocratic families. The Zamindar of Manikpur is slow to accept that life as he knew it is about to change.
At the same time, a young archeologist named Varun (Ranveer Singh) arrives to excavate an ancient temple on the Zamindar’s estate. The handsome archeologist attracts the attention of the Zamindar’s bright daughter, Pakhi (Sonakshi Sinha). Romance blossoms under the restrained social conventions of the time. The two contrive to spend time together under the guise of Varun teaching Pakhi how to paint, even though she knows far more about the art than he does.
Varun’s assistant, Debdas, warns him to end his flirtations before he breaks Pakhi’s heart. They will leave as soon as their project ends, and besides, Varun’s uncle won’t allow him to get married.
Lootera takes its time parsing out information, allowing the audience to fall in love with the characters before hinting at the possible complications. Varun and Pakhi are both young, smart, and attractive. Her father is fond of Varun, not to mention rich. Why would Varun’s uncle object to their relationship?
When the answer is revealed, it sets off a cascade of events that set up a thrilling second half. Amit Tridevi’s score augments the film perfectly, as does the frequent absence of a background score when atmospheric sounds are more appropriate.
Overall, Lootera is a quiet movie. Varun and Pakhi speak in whispers or sit together in silence, drawing the audience into the intimacy of their relationship.
With such a tight focus on the leading couple, the success of the film depends entirely upon the performances of Singh and Sinha. Both actors are more than up to the task. Singh does some excellent work when Varun tries to heed Debdas’ advice and push Pakhi away. He speaks of not wanting to see her anymore, but his face can’t help but give Pakhi — and the audience — a hint that he’s lying.
Pakhi undergoes some major changes of the course of the movie, and Sinha is superb at adapting while keeping the core of the character intact. Even in Pakhi’s darkest moments, some small joy lights up her face in the same smile as the innocent girl introduced at the start of the film. This is undoubtedly Sinha’s finest work to date.
The pacing of the story, the gorgeous cinematography, and the tremendous acting make Lootera a movie that should have universal appeal and stand the test of time. I look forward to revisiting this many times in the years to come — and recommending it to everyone I know.