Bollywood adapts O. Henry's 'Last Leaf' for 'Lootera'

MUMBAI Fri Jul 5, 2013 1:30pm IST

1 of 5. Handout pictures from the sets of the film 'Lootera'.

MUMBAI (Reuters) - Vikramaditya Motwane first caught the attention of Bollywood in 2010 when his debut film made it to the Cannes film festival, competing in the "Un Certain Regard" category for emerging directors.

"Udaan" was a small-budget film about teenage angst and three years later, Motwane is wooing audiences with a big-ticket period romance inspired by "The Last Leaf", a short story by American writer O.Henry published in 1907.

Motwane's new film "Lootera" opens in cinemas on July 5, going head-to-head with jailed Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt's last completed film "Policegiri".

The filmmaker spoke to Reuters about "Lootera" and the difficulties of adapting a four-page short story into a full-fledged Bollywood movie.

Excerpts from an interview:

Q: What is "Lootera" about?

A: It is a love story; it's part thriller, mystery. At its core, it is a love story - it is about falling in love, about betrayal, redemption and a lot of things. It is also about friendship and life, and just a little bit more.

Q: Did you set out to make a love story?

A: Kind of. It is inspired from "The Last Leaf" which is a very strange love story, if it is a love story at all. I just thought it would be interesting to have this semi-tragic story which still leaves you with a smile on your face. So me and Bhavani (Iyer), who is my co-writer, took it up as a challenge and said let us see what we can do with this adaptation. Also, we were struggling writers with nothing to do, so we said let's just do this. We bounced ideas off each other and built it up and then realized that this was serious. We could actually make a film out of this.

Q: What about "The Last Leaf" made you want to adapt it?

A: Many things. The fact that it is tragic but leaves you with a smile on your face. The sense of doing something selfless for somebody who doesn't even know about it - that was really interesting. It was the human element that was magic.

Q: How do you adapt a short story to an Indian setting?

A: The easy thing is that it is a four-page short story so you are not encumbered with details. Adapting a book is the most difficult thing because half the time you are wondering what to remove. Here, we had to add to it and work on a complete backstory. I tried to do a modern-day adaptation but it didn't work. You are talking of two people who come together and are then forced apart and in today's day and age with cellphones and Facebook, how far apart can you actually be?

Q: Was it easier to make your second film after the success of "Udaan"?

A: I had written this script before "Udaan" was made and part of the angst of getting that first film made and finding that it wasn't getting done, worked itself into this. This was a big-budget film, which is difficult to make as a first film. And that wasn't a good time; it is much easier today. It was a question of throwing both balls in the air and seeing which one would be caught - either "Udaan" or "Lootera".

It has become easier in the sense that doors opened quicker - getting access to the stars and the money has been easier. But it hasn't been an easy film to make. It is much bigger in terms of scale and production. But that was the intention. We set out to make a big film because I don't want to be stuck with being slotted as making films that are small. Because I have ideas that I know are going to take a lot of money to make. Not a lot of money, but some money. You have to give the industry confidence that you can handle that kind of money and budget.

Q: Do you think it is possible to have an indie mindset and make mainstream movies?

A: I think Raju Hirani and Farah Khan are the only two filmmakers who can balance the multiplex audiences and the single-screen audiences. But how long has it been since we had a film that was that successful? But then the fact that stars are making films like "Barfi!" and "Kahaani" is exciting for me.

Q: Do you think of your audience while making a film?

A: Of course, you have to think of the audience. You cannot make an obtuse film that only appeals to a small niche section of the audience. You have to be honest about what kind of films you want to make. If it is in your blood to make those kind of films, go ahead and make them. If it is not … and I have seen a lot of filmmakers do that, they make films that they don't believe in and it doesn't work.

(Editing by Tony Tharakan)

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