Director: Aakash Bhatia
Writers: Aakash Bhatia, Puneet Chadha, Vinay Chhawal, Arnav Nanduri, Ketan Pedgaonkar
Cast: Taapsee Pannu, Tahir Raj Bhasin, Shreya Dhanwanthary, Dibyendu Bhattacharya, Rajendra Chawla
Cinematographer: Yash Khanna
Editor: Priyank Prem Kumar
Streaming on: Netflix
If you’ve seen enough cinema channel adverts over the years, chances are you’ll remember the image of a red-haired girl sprinting across Berlin. Run Lola Run (1998) is that sort of movie. Tom Tykwer’s hyper-sensory thriller is such a potent cocktail of the physical and the philosophical that it’s hard to imagine the iconography of modern film without it. We see three alternate versions of a girl’s frantic race against time to save her boyfriend; the idea is to convey how the smallest of actions can have the biggest consequences. This butterfly effect gimmick aside, what we’re also seeing is a live-action videogame of fate: Berlin is an obstacle course for a princess who gets three attempts to manipulate the setting and rescue her prince from fire-breathing dragons.
The Hindi adaptation, Looop Lapeta, reveals a new dimension: the “running of age” story. Which is to say a character comes of age, except the journey is literal. With every attempt, the girl must move one step closer to loving herself – and by extension, loving him. In his review of the German film, Roger Ebert mentioned that he liked the protagonist but didn’t get to know her very well (“she’s usually out of breath”). Director Aakash Bhatia uses this feedback to fashion a fuller film. Everything is outlined: the girl, the guy, their relationship, the stakes. The animated opening credits show that Savi (Taapsee Pannu) is an actual athlete whose career was ended by injury. She starts dating Satya (Tahir Raj Bhasin), the man who mangles her suicide attempt and gives her a new lease of life. They’re happy together but struggling to reach the next stage. It’s her birthday, and she discovers she’s pregnant moments before receiving Satya’s panicked call. All of this is established by the time Savi realizes she has 50 minutes to arrange for the 50 lakhs that Satya loses during a botched money delivery. If she fails, Satya will be killed by his gangster boss. So she runs – towards the future, towards her Satya (“truth”), away from the past.
Too much context is an Indian habit. It’s ironic that the makers want to leave nothing to chance in a film about chance. But Run Lola Run was, by nature, a technical experiment: all whimsy and motion, energy and pizzazz. Looop Lapeta gets the spirit of adaptation right. It adds without subtracting. It makes the love story more visible in a culture that aches for the renovation of romance. And it breathes. The frenetic blood rush of the original is supplied by a beating heart. For instance, Savi being an ex-athlete is not to say ordinary humans can’t run like the wind; her stamina promises a sense of circularity: this can be her gold-winning race. The narrative loop of the film – repeatedly returning to the beginning, wiser and quicker – echoes the rhythms of a middle-distance race. The setting, Goa, allows the film to convey a Ludo-like visual eccentricity. The popping colours, frame-rate trickery and flashy music have good reason to exist too. Both Savi and Satya are high when the crisis hits; we sense the events through their glazed eyes.
Most of all, Looop Lapeta builds on the relationship between love and timing. Satya saves Savi in one fell swoop at the beginning of the film. He’s certain of her; he even has a (gold) ring ready. Savi spends the rest of the film sputtering towards the same certainty; she needs three chances to save him because she’s the commitment phobe. This disharmony in timing is echoed in how the two react to the crisis. His solution is spare: rob a jewelry store. Hers is crowded – featuring her distant father, a heartbroken taxi driver, a sad bride, an angry cop, a casino – but it always leads to the jewelry store. Stripped of its kinetic identity, this is essentially a story of a girl who is forced to confront the compatibility of her soulmate. The running, the situations and the characters on the way represent her emotional hurdles.
But having a beating heart also implies living longer. The tight 83-minute ‘run’ time of the original balloons to 131 minutes here, with the frills coming at the cost of thrills. Some of the set pieces are overkill, like Satya’s cross connections with two bumbling brothers (who look like a throwback to the old Parle KrackJack commercials), Savi’s exchanges with her estranged father, or a bride’s panicked monologue when Savi breaks into her bedroom. The screwball comedy and the transitions between the three versions – where flashback Satya is narrating an Amar Chitra Katha story to Savi – are a bit too elaborate, not to mention the lavish 50-minute time limit to get the money (as opposed to Lola’s 20-minute sprints). In other words, the film’s strength is also its weakness. But if one were to view Looop Lapeta as more of an architectural human drama than a pacey thriller, the uneven pace may not feel as jarring. The source material becomes a skeleton in a body that sacrifices momentum for mass. Or in runner parlance, speed for smarts. Did Savi’s path to awakening need to be so long? Maybe not. But does her tiny transformation across attempts still add up? More or less. Bhatia’s film-making stays inventive even when the writing lags. It’s a brave move to make a movie so ambivalent about substance. But the style translates Tykwer’s vision into something more tropical and tipsy; it’s like watching a fever-pitch music video morphing back and forth into a story.
Taapsee Pannu has been Hindi cinema’s go-to actress for physical roles. She’s been prolific lately, so it’s sort of fitting that her Savina feels like a lovechild of the last two characters she’s played. Savi’s ‘vibrant’ relationship is straight out of Haseen Dillruba, and her running takes a page out of Rashmi Rocket’s book. The result is a weird, good-humoured turn: one that doesn’t mind throwing it all at the wall to see what sticks. Ditto for Tahir Raj Bhasin, who’s been everywhere lately. He is adequately elastic as Satya, adding over-the-top comedy to his growing repertoire of genre acting. Their oddball chemistry is a nice change from the self-seriousness of romantic dramas. It also humanizes Looop Lapeta’s flamboyant exterior. For all we know, Savi and Satya are actually sitting at home, stoned, and having a trilogy of messy spats to determine the future of their relationship.
Looop Lapeta is also one of those movies that, like a Ludo, would have hit differently on the big screen. I also suspect that the visual flourishes, like a Jagga Jasoos or a Judgmentall Hai Kya, may not have set the box office on fire. For better or worse, the pandemic has ensured that we view such films through a separate (streaming) lens. Maybe the pandemic is why it hits differently anyway. Life has been one long and acidic loop – of running, surviving, learning and starting all over again – since early 2020. Every wave is experienced with knowledge of what went wrong the last time. Yet, the danger almost never recedes. We’re now at the end of the third wave, a third intense but shorter sprint. In that sense, the timing of Looop Lapeta – a tale of timing – is just right. Palm Springs comes to mind. Most of us needed to watch a film about moving ahead despite being stuck in a loop. About healing despite identical days of hurt. Satya and Savi’s crazy world is ours. They aspire to be us, not vice versa. We don’t look too shabby on screen after all.