Photo Credit: Manpreet Singh Virk/Netflix
Looop Lapeta — the new Netflix movie with Taapsee Pannu and Tahir Raj Bhasin — is proof that Bollywood can't make a lean-and-mean high-concept B-movie. Rather than jump straight into the thick of things (and stay in its lane), the Hindi-language remake of writer-director Tom Tykwer's Sundance Film Festival-winning 1998 German thriller Run Lola Run stuffs in all sorts of plot, subplot, and backstory into it. There's even a song sequence that further slows down Looop Lapeta. While Run Lola Run was a tight 89 minutes — not a single minute more than it needed to be — Looop Lapeta runs for 130 minutes.
Those extra 40 minutes are filled with distraction after distraction (involving a variety of side characters), seeping away at the momentum of what is meant to be a thriller. And inevitably, Looop Lapeta loses its tension every time it is distracted. That's key for any thriller movie — more so one that literally revolves around a short span of time. (The protagonist here has 50 minutes to source Rs. 50 lakh.)
Tywker understood the importance of all that on Run Lola Run, with the German film being propelled by its sheer kinetic energy. (Speed was among the titles they considered, Tywker has noted.) The Looop Lapeta director Aakash Bhatia — making his feature debut here, with his only previous longform experience being the second season of Amazon Prime Video's over-the-top soapy Inside Edge — is obviously a fan of that movie, given he is remaking it to begin with. (There's even an in-your-face Easter egg, with the back of a red-haired Lola shown walking into a casino.) But Bhatia doesn't really understand what made Run Lola Run such a cult hit and why it worked so well.
Maybe this wrong approach is a result of inexperience, too many cooks in the kitchen, or both. There are four credited writers on Looop Lapeta: Dr. Vinay Chhawal, Ketan Pedgaonkar, Arnav Vepa Nanduri, and the director Bhatia. Three of them have never written a movie in their lives, save Chhawal whose only credit includes the poorly-received comedy-drama Angrezi Medium. For what it's worth, Looop Lapeta gets better as it goes on, with the third cycle — those who have seen the original will know what I mean — being the most elaborate and interesting of the lot. But for too much of its runtime, it lacks the requisite focus and propulsive force that this sort of a movie needs.
Or maybe this wrong approach is a result of producer demands. Looop Lapeta is the second Indian remake of a high-concept international thriller on Netflix in the last few months. The previous one was the Kartik Aaryan-led Dhamaka, where writer-director Ram Madhvani fell into a similar trap at the beginning (before running into other problems). Except its distractions were shorter albeit more saccharine. Maybe it's more of an industry issue then. Why can't B-movies in India simply be B-movies? Why can't movies be as tight as they need to be? It's generally accepted that Bollywood has a habit of stretching films — and Looop Lapeta feels like the latest victim of that egregious philosophy.
The premise here is the same: after Satyajeet (Tahir Raj Bhasin, from Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein) loses a mobster's money, his girlfriend Savina Borkar (Taapsee Pannu) comes to his rescue. She needs to get Rs. 50 lakh in 50 minutes, otherwise Satya faces brutal death. But Looop Lapeta tweaks how we come to that. For starters, it's her birthday and she has just found out she's pregnant. But unlike Lola in Run Lola Run where she failed to pick up her boyfriend like she was supposed to, Savi has no involvement in Satya's adventure. That's a curious move. Even though her boyfriend was largely at fault, Lola felt bad about her part — or lack of it. Savi has no reason to feel guilty, so her decision to help Satya comes purely out of a place of love.
And that's where Looop Lapeta's backstory comes into play. In Run Lola Run, Lola was rescuing her dumb ungrateful boyfriend (whom we otherwise knew little about). Here, Savi is paying him back in a way. With the help of a voice-over from Pannu and an animated opening titles sequence, Looop Lapeta walks us through Savi's history: a successful track athlete who suffered a career-ending injury, she came close to taking her own life, only for Satya to save her from certain doom. (Very early on, Savi jokes that the audience doesn't need to be told how she reached here — knocked up — but then the movie gives us that story anyway. Self-awareness is not a strong suit.) Pregnant and going nowhere in life, Savi is essentially in limbo. It's fitting then she finds herself in a (time) loop.
For those who know nothing about Run Lola Run, that's the sci-fi concept in two words. Every time Savi fails to save Satya, she's reset back.
There is promise here in this expanded version of Lola. Refashioned as a woman stuck in life and now getting a second chance, the events of Looop Lapeta serve as an otherworldly test. It's like the universe itself is speaking to Savi, trying to shake herself out of her stupor, and pushing her to fix her life. Run Lola Run never really bothered to flesh out Lola in this manner — everything we learnt about her was from the movie, not from her own words. It was either conveyed in bits and bobs during her many runs, or during the interludes that stitched together the loops.
While having fully disregarded the former, Bhatia and Co. retain the latter — the aspect ratio changes from 16:9 to a more square-ish one whenever this happens — with the conversation delving into a story ripped from the pages of Mahabharata. Mythology nerds would have noticed by now that the lead couple is named after the witty and devoted princess Savitri and her exiled love interest prince Satyavan whose death was foretold. But Savitri found a way to save Satyavan, and Looop Lapeta's Savi finds herself in a similar spot. The mythology-laden interludes might tell us why Savi is doing what she's doing, but they don't quite hit at the existential ponderings of Run Lola Run.
As for the expanded backstory, the trouble is that Looop Lapeta spends too much time in setting it all up. It needed to figure out a way to tell us about Savi during her runs, like Run Lola Run did. The movie doesn't actually “start” until 28 minutes in. And what happens because of those 28 minutes is that when Looop Lapeta starts doing things that Run Lola Run did — like give us cutaway vignettes of what happens in the future of random street-side characters' lives whom Lola/Savi run by — it feels weird. This didn't happen for 28 minutes, so why now? Looop Lapeta retains other ideas too without really establishing them, chief among them Lola's iconic supersonic scream that makes a left-field appearance late in the game here.
Aside from all that, there are a series of tiny but still annoying concerns. At one crucial juncture, Looop Lapeta makes use of a convenient coincidence to propel its narrative. The Netflix movie also talks down to the audience and delivers a pithy lesson at the end. And there are in-your-face product placements for a pregnancy test kit maker and a smartphone brand. Funnily enough, even though this is a Sony Pictures production, it's not a Sony phone. I imagine the company's exit from the Indian smartphone market had something to do with that.
And this feels banal to complain about, but does Pannu not look good running? This is the second movie in a row where Pannu is supposed to be running a lot. But the editors of both Rashmi Rocket and Looop Lapeta cut around her. Additionally, Looop Lapeta finds every excuse to get Savi off her feet, and into a car or bus.
What ultimately dooms Looop Lapeta is its refusal to embrace its roots. In some ways, Run Lola Run was a video game movie, emphasised by its save file-like structure, the animated inserts, and the heavy use of primary colours. Looop Lapeta, on the other hand, is a Bollywood drama.
It's also a lot less urgent. Time was of the essence in Run Lola Run — everything from the high-tempo ticking soundtrack to the camerawork that frequently glanced at clocks drove at that. You can also see that in its overall runtime and the time pressures on Lola. While Savi is given 50 minutes to get the money, Lola just had 20 minutes. You know there's padding involved when the Looop Lapeta writers felt they needed to greatly increase the length of the cycle.
If this is what it means to Indianise something, then maybe this subgenre is better off without an Indian take.
Looop Lapeta released Friday, February 4 at 1:30pm IST / 12am PT on Netflix.