Vikramaditya Motwane dares to talk softly when everyone else is screaming.

Okay, let me cut to the chase. Please go see Lootera. It’s not a modern masterpiece or a five-star movie (I’d give it four). But it’s a movie that deserves to be seen. Because Vikramaditya Motwane dares to talk softly when everyone else is screaming; it’s like a seductive whisper in a noisy, neon-lit nightclub. He tells you a story, he doesn’t deliver a commercial package. He reminds us that cinema is primarily a visual medium — Lootera’s sparingly but tellingly used dialogue allows you to luxuriate in its unhurried mood, strong performances, Mahendra Shetty's exquisite imagery and Amit Trivedi’s brilliant background score.

Above all, it is one of those films that are helping redefine commercial Hindi cinema and we need to support it. I say this because the Saturday morning show I went to had barely 50 people in the hall. I’m sure the evening shows sold more tickets and the trade papers tell me collections went up steadily with each day. But its first weekend collections were a modest Rs 15 crore.

To put that in perspective, Policegiri, a senseless potboiler that released with Lootera, was roundly trashed by critics but still managed to collect over Rs 10 crore. At the other extreme, another recent love story, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, raked in over Rs 60 crore in its opening weekend. We cannot complain endlessly about how predictable and trashy most Hindi films are if we don’t put our money where our mouth is and patronise good mainstream cinema. Lootera is no esoteric art-house movie; it is aesthetic, accessible commercial cinema minus the masala, and it makes no compromises like item numbers, comedy sequences and the like.

The director’s debut venture was Udaan, which struggled initially at the box office but went on to win several awards.

If we have to haul ourselves out of the rut Hindi cinema is in, it will be movies like Lootera, Kai Po Che!, Kahaani and Vicky Donor that will provide the momentum. Sitting through Lootera was like listening to a gentle melody after a hard day. And heaven knows we’ve had some hard days at the movies this year.

So often have we walked into a theatre, filled with (admittedly illogical) hope and walked out disappointed, plain disgusted or, worse, very angry. We’ve despaired as one Rs 100 crore package after the other churned out mind-numbing inanities — whether it was Rowdy Rathore or Jab Tak Hai Jaan. This year has been particularly bad with only two films — Kai Po Che! and Bombay Talkies — living up to their promise. The other two hits, Raanjhanaa and Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, were mixed bags.

The first flaunted a dangerous glorification of stalking and the ‘girl means yes when she says no’ fallacy. I tremble to think of the message it sends out to thousands of deluded men who can’t take a girl’s ‘no’ for an answer. It’s a scary thought in these days of acid-throwers.

As for Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, which had some lovely moments and charming (but not exceptional) performances, we were disappointed because we expected so much more from Ayan Mukherjee, whose Wake Up Sid was a little gem. Perhaps we would have been kinder to the movie had it come from another film-maker. We could be a little more charitable to some of our stars too. We, who so often blame our actors for “not taking risks” — as if it were their national duty to do so — should send up a cheer for Ranveer Singh and Sonakshi Sinha. Both of them, I’m sure, would have been ‘advised’ not to do these roles at this stage in their career. Ranveer, in just his third film, still at the ‘promising’ stage, not quite a star yet, has made a brave choice with this complex but quiet role. (Remember how the marvellous Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year got Ranbir Kapoor much praise but did little for his commercial standing?) Ranveer’s performance was especially courageous considering that his flamboyant off-screen image has been built largely on his electric onscreen presence. Next stop will be Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Ram Leela and I sure am curious to see what he comes up with there.

However it is Sonakshi Sinha who is the real surprise of the movie. I have to admit I never thought I’d be saying this, but she’s turned in a delicately balanced and calibrated performance as the pampered, hot-headed, betrayed, vulnerable Pakhi. Also, Sonakshi has redeemed herself after the horrors of Rowdy Rathore, Son of Sardaar and Dabangg 2. Goes to show what even the most hardcore commercial actors can come up with, when given a chance.

It takes more than a brave director to effect a change; the right actors need to bite, too. Look what happened to Abhishek Kapoor with Kai Po Che! Despite the success of Rock On!! (including a National Award, no less) one hears no leading actor was ready to do his movie. He finally gave television star Sushant Singh Rajput the lead role and backed him up with the excellent, but low-profile Raj Kumar Yadav and the barely-known Amit Sadh. Luckily for Kapoor, it worked out well. Motwane was luckier in getting this cast. Popular mainstream stars may not necessarily make for a better movie, but they sure as hell help sell tickets. If they can actually act and realise the director’s vision, what’s not to like?

Will Lootera be a game-changer? I wish I could utter a stirring “Yes!” but cold-eyed reality will not let me. I don’t think anything as dramatic as that will happen, though every new move helps bring in new energy. I doubt there will be many clones. For one, a film like this can only emerge from a director’s core sensibilities — it is not something that can be played out as a package or carried out as strategy.

Besides, we love our song-and-dance dramas far too much to sideline them. They are the soul of Indian cinema and they’re not going anywhere in a hurry. If only they’d make us cheer oftener, though.

shashi.baliga@gmail.com

(This article was published on July 11, 2013)
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