Cast: Sonakshi Sinha, Ranvir Singh, Barun Chanda, Vikrant Massey
Director: Vikramaditya Motwane
Runtime: 135 min.
Verdict: There are momentary pleasures. But what starts as a politically intriguing tale, swiftly descends into a terribly narrated tacky melodrama.
(Warning: The below passages contain spoilers!)
The old man does come across as the haughty bourgeoisie, blissfully ignoring political upheavals in the land, always believing the new times would never overrun his own except in the best of ways. We do seem to have come a long way from the hammer and sickle of Mehboob productions. Here is a zamindaar not intoxicated in his power, not exactly the tyrant we have come to expect after numerous such depictions of the class, but someone lost in his own era. Shatranj Ke Khilari does come to mind. Here’s man not greedy. Here’s a man so uninterested by money that he doesn’t take a moment to point towards his accountant for any matters of finance. Here’s a man who’s been breathing the luxuries of a life free of want, a life always seeking the pleasures of art and aesthetics. To him, his orchards might be synonymous with beautiful landscapes. You might want to label him a collector of aesthetics, and if the socialist streak of the new times and its new administration robs him of his collection under the reason that the art belongs to the nation, it sure does make me a little uncomfortable. I’m all for sharing, but when the treasury department folks come about, snatch from him his collection, I have to admit I was a little conflicted. I mean, share with whom? With them, for whom the USP/wow-factor of some of these sculptures and artifacts is that they are made of some super-costly material. Or with them who believe a movie filled with “picturesque landscapes” is an artistic triumph. There are several questions here about the 1% v/s the 99% that would provide some serious fodder for an interesting debate.
I come back to the old man. He cuts a forlorn figure. Probably the only thing he prides greater than his collection is his daughter, and in a desperate stroke to establish his royalty he announces her marriage. What comes about then right at the stroke of intermission, in the manner in which Lootera reveals the truth behind the treasury department and the marriage, deftly bringing about the multiple narrative elements into one single whole, through some glorious montage, juxtaposing the destroyed old man on the chair with the young man he had put his all his hopes on, is as tragic as tragedy gets. The old man’s eyes and the daughter’s eyes and the young man’s eyes. It is heart-breaking on several levels, but most importantly it completely extinguishes any opportunity of any debate I was referring to above, and instead makes the film completely apolitical. But then that’s just me, and we might do well to ignore me.
And come back to the old man. Who, we know by now, is not exactly the picture of emotional strength, and is dead. Leaving in his wake a daughter who dutifully makes the transformation from chirpy and naughty to depressed and lonely. Also with some kind of tuberculosis where one has asthmatic attacks (wonder if anything like that exists?). Oh yeah, also in Dalhousie, which is the last place one wants to be if one has a respiratory disorder. Unless one is on a death wish, which Pakhi (Ms. Sinha) does allude towards once. Trouble is, she does expect the young man, Varun (Mr. Singh), to turn up and informs the local police as well. So, what exactly is she, and what is her internal state? Does her subconscious secretly expect Varun to turn up one day, and is she sort of repressing it? After all, from her perspective, Dalhousie is the likeliest place for her to meet him again. But then, she does admit to the cops she has no ill-feelings towards him and she only wants to forget and move on. Then why Dalhousie, where the mathematical probability is high, more so when the screenwriter himself is banking on them to meet here again. Does she seek revenge ala Ishqiya (which would’ve been something)? Not in hindsight, and she has grown too weak. Not because of depression, because in Dalhousie she would be expecting him anytime. That would mean her state of mind would be up, and not down, and definitely not moving towards death, thereby implying her ailment is something acutely physical, and she would have to be fighting it to stay alive to wait for him to come back into her life. Which makes me all very confused, because she admittedly wants to move on. Two things then. One, she’s an idiot, and two, her predicament doesn’t qualify to draw inspiration from O. Henry’s The Last Leaf, which relies on simple clearly-defined dynamics to draw its emotions.
The former is what causes within me immense dejection. Here’s a man who has not merely betrayed her love but destroyed her innocently ignorant father, a crime which makes him near irredeemable. That he has carried on with his life, and that he still continues to pursue his criminal endeavors confirms his status as a hateful scavenger, which does spice up the narrative pretty well to invoke her contempt. Yet, he earns her trust and her love by merely making a few cups of tea and a few meals, and performing a couple of nurse-jobs. She offers little by way of resistance, there’s precious little by way of strong feelings, and it’s just all terribly meek. Little by way of grace, if you know what I mean. While the screenwriters ignore logic and invoke the cops only to their convenience, it is the readily available point of redemption that annoys me. Varun earns nothing. For no particular reason the housemaid stops turning up. For some reason the doctor stops turning up. For some reason the cops do not guard the exit from Pakhi’s guesthouse. And in spite of all this, Mr. Motwane doesn’t realize that sacrifice works best when its beneficiary learns about the act not merely after it is done, but learns it with us. And a sacrifice works best when the person performing the act has everything to lose. Looper, last year, had similar problems. Sacrifice is an act of grace, not a last ditch attempt at redemption when everything else is lost. Jai never letting Veeru know the secret of the coin and us learning of it along with the latter is what makes Mr. Salim and Mr. Akhtar such great story writers. The act is presented simply and clearly without the need of flashbacks or Jai’s voiceovers or any explanations. We all realize it collectively.
Here, (a) Mr. Motwane fails to reduce the act to its bare simplicity, thus having to present a long-drawn sequence of the act being performed. Now, this sequence has two problems – one, there is inherently little by way of stakes because Varun is already a goner (cops waiting for him) and two, he doesn’t exactly have to walk on a bed of fire or sit through a snow-storm to get the job done. Now, (b), after the act, we’re a little confused as to what it was, i.e. did he do it daily (the threads suggest so), which means these are real leaves? If they are, why does he need to paint them every day? Or if it is just that one day, which if it is makes the act pretty trivial, right alongside making tea and meals and giving injections. And (c), we know of the act before the beneficiary does, thus divorcing us of her perspective, and when the emotions draw on her (which they very conveniently), she stands alone on the screen. That’s not how stories are ended.