Lootera is an atmospheric period drama with many good facets; the music, the cinematography and the acting all stand out as great. In the backdrop of 1950's India, a somewhat sheltered landowner's daughter falls in love with an archaeologist visiting her father's land. Things unfold slowly, and the film does a good job of showing things, rather than telling. The young actors, Sonakshi Sinha and Ranveer Singh, do really well in their roles - there's a new maturity in both of them that shows what they're capable in the hands of a good director.
With all these things going for it, I was surprised at myself for not loving this film - or perhaps not as much surprised as disappointed. The thing is, as the undercurrent of tragedy in this tale of love become a prominent feature of the story on the latter half, I heard sniffling around me in the half-empty film festival screening, and then I realised it - I wasn't emotionally engaged with the film, unlike these other viewers. I wasn't emotionally engaged at all. I wasn't living through the story with the characters, like you do in a particularly good film, but instead, I felt as if I was looking at them from the outside.
There are a few reasons for this, but I feel like biggest reason was probably the way that the story references changes in landowner (zamindari) law and the way the newly independent India was changing its societal structure, chipping away at the privileged class whose fortunes had been handed down to them, generation through generation. Sonakshi's character Pakhi comes from this very privileged upbringing - she's always had everything, and early on in the film there's a scene where she uses her social standing to benefit her in a rather manipulative way, against one of her servants. This is not a horrible scene, but it rubbed me the wrong way - if I was supposed to sympathise with this character, that scene established her as spoiled and unlikable. When Ranveer's character Varun enters the picture and falls for her, I found myself wondering why he likes her so much. I couldn't emerge myself in their love story, so when it unfolds into heart-wrenching drama, I was just left sitting there, watching, thinking, "Yeah, okay, so now this is happening I guess." Detached. The one thing you don't want to be in a film of this kind.
It's unfortunate, and it's possibly one of those things that's changed in me over the years. I'm going to sound like a Marxist when I type this but I can honestly say that having a perspective on things like societal or economic class is something I've gained in the past couple of years when it comes to Indian films. It's not something I've really thought about before. Of course, it's not something I think about all the time, with every movie - I'm perfectly fine with following the lives of the hyper-privileged in my fluffy Indian entertainment. On the other hand, when a film references changing times and then doesn't explore the topic in an intelligent way, or adequately to my liking, I guess I lose some of my enjoyment of the film. Lootera is wonderful in many ways, but I wasn't attached to it, and in the greater scheme of things, that's probably both on me and the film itself.