Saturday, July 13, 2013

Lootera: Motwane and Kashyap make a Lifetime Movie [Spoiler FREE review!]

Because I’m hungry, I’ll use a food metaphor to explain my reaction to Lootera. Imagine that you’re sitting down to a meal at a restaurant. The chef has taken every care with the ingredients - organic vegetables from the restaurant’s garden, heritage grains grown in some pristine field, cheese and meats from animals who are cared for with love and respect. Everything is cooked with finesse and skill and plated with the eye of artiste. The waitress sets down the plate in front of you. The smell is heavenly! It looks delicious!

And then, the waitress pulls out a bottle of ketchup from her apron and proceeds to squirt the ultra-sweet goo all over your food.

Bon appetit!

You can still catch some hints of the subtle flavors of the meal but your overriding sensation will be the disgustingly sweet, blandifying taste of the ketchup.

Amit Trivedi’s score is like ketchup.

Every nuance in the acting is slathered in cheap sounding steel string guitar and cheaper sounding string pads; every subtlety in the story is buried under a fucking drum kit and electric bass. It got to the point where I would actually roll my eyes at the screen when yet another one of these interminable musical cues kicked in crapping all over whatever emotions Sonakshi Sinha and Ranveer Singh had been building on screen.

And it’s a shame because Sonakshi and Ranveer do an outstanding job with the material they are given. Buried under the amateur hour score* is a fascinating little nugget of a film.

Based in part on O. Henry’s The Last Leaf, Lootera is the story of Pakhi (Sonakshi Sinha), the daughter of a zamindar. It’s 1952 and Pakhi leads a life full of wealth, comfort, and intellectual and artistic pursuits. She goes to the theater. She listens to music. She writes stories.

It’s this bubble of privilege that Varun (Ranveer Singh) pops when he crashes into Pakhi while zipping along on his motorbike. Varun is quiet. He’s a man who keeps his desires under lock and key. He is an archaeologist looking to dig up the family’s old temple to see what might be buried underneath the surface but Varun finds himself drawn more to the vibrant Pakhi than the mounds of dirt at the temple.

Their love story hinges on a plot reveal that I won’t give away here but needless to say that what is broken pre-interval takes a long time to heal post-interval.

Rounding out the cast are veteran Bengali actor Barun Chanda as Pakhi’s father, the zamindar, television actor Vikrant Massey as Varun’s friend Dev, and the solid Adil Hussain as police inspector K.N. Singh. Divya Dutta and Shirin Guha also have small but significant roles as ladies who make sure Lootera passes the Bechdel Test. And Arif Zakaria has a very minor role but very memorable role as Varun’s uncle. Where has Arif been hiding and will somebody please cast him in some tasty masala baddie roles soon.

The film itself meanders along at a leisurely pace and - when one isn’t having one’s ear drums assaulted by the “string section” patch on Amit’s Casio CT 7000 - there is a lot of pleasure to be found in the small details of Lootera. The costumes and sets and cinematography are wonderful but, more importantly, so are Sonakshi and Ranveer. If anybody doubted Sonakshi’s ability to act before Lootera, they won’t after watching it. Her eyes catch the camera and just hold it. A glance up. A blink. A glare. She fills the screen like it really was 1952 and her competition was Meena Kumari not Anushka Sharma’s booty shorts. There is a moment where her back is to us and her long braid swings out of the way for just long enough for us to glimpse a bit of her bare back where her dupatta has slipped out of place. It’s incredibly erotic.

Ranveer is playing against type. Or, at least, against Band Baaja Baaraat, which is how most people know him, if the lady patiently explaining who is who to her husband in the row behind me is any guide. He had the incredibly difficult task to play Varun as a cipher but not so ciphery that the audience never believes a word he says. I think he succeeds, hampered as he is by the tinny tones of a steel string guitar on the backing track which cue the audience to see him as more Dawson than Dev Anand.

Pakhi and Varun share an intellectual romance. Something one rarely sees in any sort of fiction - even rarer is the story where it’s the woman’s superior talent and intellectual abilities that call to the man. More than Pakhi’s beauty and charm, it’s her freedom to think and to express herself that have Varun captivated. And instead of being intimidated and threatened, he turns to her like a plant seeking the sun. What is she writing, what is she painting, what is she thinking. Varun wants to know.

There are a handful of sloppy plot threads surrounding Varun’s past but I can’t help but feel that if the score had been better matched to the tone of the film, we could have felt Varun’s emotions better and the specifics of the “whys” wouldn’t have mattered as much. I get that not everybody is musically inclined and I can appreciate a film with no sync-songs. (I prefer sync-songs but I can enjoy a film without them.) But, honestly, the musical score to Lootera is so atrocious that I couldn’t help but feel that it was director Vikramaditya Motwane showing his disdain for the romance genre and for the audience who actually appreciates those old weepy Meena Kumari films on a non-ironic level. Did Motwane not understand how tacky it all sounded? Or maybe Amit Trivedi ran out of time on the project and slapped it together one Red Bull fueled weekend at his laptop. Either way, the score revealed an unbelievable ignorance of how music in films actually works.

As somebody who has viewed films from many, many different global film industries, I can say with conviction that there are many ways to score a film. I’ve long been a fan of both the silence of Japanese films and the wall of sound cues that fill the scores of Rohit Shetty style comedies. Trivedi and Motwane sound like they were aiming straight for Hollywood, with it’s addiction to the romantacism knock-off orchestral sound of John Williams larded all over every potentially meaningful moment. But blended with a certain amount of sterile Vishal-Shekar style rock. You know, for authenticity.

Lootera, with it’s delicate emotions and period setting needed Naushad Ali, not Paula Cole. The dialogues and actors and story were suffocated under Trivedi’s relentless schmaltz. I rolled my eyes at Ranveer standing angstily in the snow instead of feeling the ache with him. The fault was not with Ranveer, whose velvety voice and soft looks gave me thrills when unaccompanied by sound, nor with the story. No, the blame lies with the unbearable music. If my impressions are correct, Lootera has received somewhat mixed to negative reviews. I’m not sure if anybody else mentioned the music but I would be very curious to see another edit of the film with either all the music left out or a new score by either an oldie like Khayyam or somebody more experienced with this type of film like A.R. Rahman or even Anu Malik. Or perhaps both. Music helps us reach an emotional understand with the characters and if it’s bad or wrong or distracting, then our enjoyment of a film will be severely limited. And I suspect that is what happened to Lootera. * Seriously, the score was so badly matched to the film that there were times I expected James Van Der Beek to come waltzing up into Sonakshi’s room. There are kids in their first year of a film scoring major at Berklee that could do better. Imagine Pakeezah scored to sound like a Lifetime Movie from 1987 and you’ll come close to the travesty of this soundtrack.


odadune said...

I remember seeing the song promos for this, and thinking "yeah, okay, that's kind of pretty, but that is blatantly not the visuals it's supposed to be set to, I wonder if they're hiding the actual scenes involved because they're spoilery."

Bummer that they turned out so badly in context. I wonder if it was the Balaji influence-they are always so determined to flog their movies through their music to idiotic extremes. (OK, guys, I understand that due to the postwork being still in progress, you're not gonna give us the whole of Priyanka's item number from SAW, or the whole of the Yeh Tune Kya Kiya picturization from Dobaara...but why on earth are you giving us 30-sec previews of the already abbreviated song promo you're going to release a day or two later?)

Lootera's reviews followed the same pattern as Special 26's, from what I could tell. First, lots of positive words from friends of the cast and director/producers on twitter, and some early reviews that all but implied the film would walk your dog and cure cancer. These reviews, and the second wave that followed them often carried a subtext of pleading with the cast to do more like this and less like their usual stuff.

The second wave of reviews liked it with caveats or were clearly cutting it a lot of slack just because it was different, and was followed in turn by a handful of largely negative reviews that seemed to be as much about hype backlash as the film's actual failings.

Filmi Girl said...

@odadune You hit the nail on the head for the reviews - including extra slack because Kashyap and Motwane AND Trivedi are the critical golden boys right now.

The backing score was a far worse crime than the songs we got trailers for. And it starts a few minutes into the film when Pakhi's father is telling her a fairy tale and this HORRENDOUS sweet music just fills the movie theater. I'm going to be honest and say that I almost walked out at that point because I didn't think I could sit through the rest of the film if it was going to be scored like that. It's a shame because the places where the score is silent or only classic, period songs are used, it's a very pretty film. Kind of SLB-lite.

The songs as promotional tools is interesting - it means these guys can't get rid of songs from their films no matter how "Hollywood-style" they want to be because they NEED songs to sell the film. But they don't want to use songs in the film. I don't know. For guys like that, maybe the ending credits song is their best bet...

Maya said...

I liked Lootera but I didn't notice the score- though I did feel a lot of songs were out of place. And the reviews weren't mixed to negative (I've read all of them lol). Definitely mixed but more towards the positive.

Moimeme said...

Hi FG -- I just skimmed your review before, and, having just seen Lootera, read it all the way through. The background music didn't bother me till the second half, when it was more the volume than the nature of it that I didn't like. Anyway, it was pointed out as a distraction by the review at moifightclub also. You might want to read that review, because Motwani has actually responded to the negative criticisms:

Moimeme said...

Here's someone who has a positive take on the use of music in Lootera:

(Read the comments, too; some agree with Rangan, some disagree.)

Note from Filmi Girl:

I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.

xoxo Filmi Girl
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