By Pankaj Sachdeva
Vikramaditya Motwane’s melancholic Lootera is a film about artists. There is Pakhi Roy Choudhary (Sonakshi Sinha) who wants to be a writer someday. There is Varun Shrivastava (Ranveer Singh) who wants to paint a masterpiece someday. It is only fitting then that the film uses hands—the most important parts for a writer and a painter—to tell the hauntingly beautiful story of its artists. One can almost retell Lootera using its delicate hand shots. Director Vikramaditya Motwane and cinematographer Mahendra Shetty have taken so much care to design the shots of hands in its frames. The faces are cut off and the hands play the roles of the characters.
One of the first scenes in the film with hands appears when Pakhi deliberately pours hot tea on Varun’s hands as he was making fun of her driving skills.
Moments later, there is a shot of Varun’s scalded hand with some cream applied to it.
Varun aspired to be a painter someday. He builds a blank canvas, preparing for the masterpiece he wants to make. He is no Raja Ravi Varma but his ambition to be one keeps him going in life.
Sparks fly between Varun and Pakhi. To spend time together, she asks him to teach her how to paint.
The lessons start. Pakhi wants to learn to make portraits but Varun wants to begin with landscapes. She already knows landscapes and shows him that she can make one.
Varun is stunned by her artistic finesse. She says she does not know how to make leaves and asks him to teach her. He paints a few but she is unimpressed. She figures out that he does not know even the p of painting.
Their roles reverse. Pakhi becomes the teacher; Varun becomes the student. Ab class chalte rehne ke liye kisi ko toh sikhana hoga aur kisi ko seekhna. There are more lovely hand shots where Pakhi uses her hands to guide Varun while he paints. The delicacy in her movement is lovely.
As the lessons continue, the romance between the two starts blossoming. Pakhi enters Varun’s room. She feels his jackets through her hands.
She feels his cigarettes through her hands. Touching his things feels like touching love itself.
The painting starts coming to life and is almost complete. They become more comfortable with each other.
After spending a day together, Pakhi suffers an asthma attack on the way back. Varun gives her the shot of her medicine. His hands keep comforting her while she lies in his arms. He feels awkward initially but then brings her closer to him. There is warmth is his touch.
Varun brings her home. There is another hand shot transition when her hand leaves his hand and her father takes her to her room.
Things start slowly heading south in their relationship as it is the time for Varun to leave. A vulnerable Pakhi goes to his room and they spend the night together. Their hands kiss before their lips kiss.
On the night before his great betrayal, Varun is lost deep in thought holding their picture in his hands.
Unaware of Varun’s shenanigans, Pakhi gets ready for her engagement. There are more hand shots where she is being dressed.
The truth is finally revealed. Varun disappears. Zamindar Babu passes away. He did not die because unhe kisi ne loot liya tha but because Varun ne unka dil toda tha, unhe dhokha diya tha.
Pakhi moves to Dalhousie, hoping that Varun will stop by the town as he once told her. She goes there because she wants to know if Varun ever loved her. She tries to write but cannot concentrate.
She wants to forget Varun but her memories do not give her permission to do so. Her pain conflicts with her love. She keeps thinking about her time with him. As Thomas Hardy wrote in Far From The Madding Crowd, “Reminiscence is less an endowment than a disease.”
She suffers from tuberculosis. She bleeds due to the cough. She bleeds due to his betrayal.
Varun returns to Pakhi’s life. The words also return to Pakhi’s life. She writes him a letter unable to rationalize her own decision to let him back. Sab kuch peeche chhod kar aayi thi, sab bhool jaane. Pata nahi kyun tum waapas aagaye, pata nahi kyun maine aane diya.
Varun reads her letter. Bheel Raja’s life was in his parrot. Zamindar Babu’s life was in his daughter. Pakhi’s life is in the last leaf of the tree outside. The day it withers completely, her life will end, she writes to him.
He offers her his hand of support, trying to make amends for his past betrayal. Reaching out and taking her hand is the beginning of another journey.
He starts to take care of her. He nurses her for the wounds he gave her.
Pakhi comes around and reciprocates his care. She starts convalescing and healing.
Pakhi also gets the answer to her inner dilemma that had been bothering her all the while as Varun tells her, “Meri zindagi mein sab ne mera istamaal kiya, pyaar sirf tumne kiya.”
Pakhi lets go of her pain and accepts him in her arms again.
They spend more moments together, lying close to each other; hand in hand. Varun checks that it is time to go do his daily task. He releases his hand from her grip.
All this while, Varun had been painting the last leaf of the tree. In preserving her horcrux, Varun had painted the greatest masterpiece of his life, giving Pakhi the hope to live, and proving to her again that he had always loved her more than anything else in the world.
It is said that a man who works with his hands is a laborer; a man who works with his hands and his brain is a craftsman, but a man who works with his hands and his brain and his heart is an artist. Lootera is made by artists like these who have put their soul in it. Like Varun’s masterpiece, the film is also one of the masterpieces of cinema that continues to enthral with its brilliance.
[Read more of the author’s work on his blog