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'Lootere' review: Hijack drama slowly tightens its grip

‘Lootere’ has ambition and excitement about a setting ripe with cinematic possibilities

A still from 'Lootere'
A still from 'Lootere'

Drama plays out in the coastal towns of the North African country of Somalia and off its coast when pirates hijack an Indian-owned Ukrainian merchant ship transporting contraband. Under the command of Captain Singh (Rajat Kapoor), the ship and its crew (of various South Asians) are held hostage by armed men for days as politics, greed, ambition, arbitration and emotions run high on land and sea.

Created by Shaailesh Singh with Hansal Mehta serving as showrunner, Lootere is based on a story by Anshuman Sinha and a script written by Vishal Kapoor and Suparn S Varma. Two of the eight episodes of the crime drama, directed by Jai Mehta, have dropped on Disney+ Hotstar, with one episode to follow every Friday.

At the centre of Lootere is Somalia’s checkered and strained political and criminal legacy, which includes the notoriety of local pirates. There is also an Indian immigrant who has made Mogadishu his home. Vikrant Gandhi (Vivek Gomber) lives with his wife Avika (Amruta Khanvilkar) and son Aryaman (Varin Roopani). Vikrant is not a nice man. His ambition, lack of scruples, his hunger for power propels the drama that leads to insurmountable death and destruction. While on the one hand his port presidency is under threat, on the other hand Vikrant has to take care of a contraband shipment that could land him in very deep waters.

South Africa stands in for Somalia, and the actors are largely cast locally, hence the accents tend to be all over the place. Martial Batchamen plays pirate leader Barkhad with restraint. Barkhad is managing a mercurial and inexperienced team of young goons who are determined to torture the hostages, whether men or women. Among the pirates is Barkhad’s brother, there is also a boy whose identity becomes critical to negotiations and a rebel who is planning his own mutiny. Among them is also Bilal, a middleman whose loyalties flip-flop. Gaurav Sharma is on-point as the smarmy fixer juggling Vikrant, the pirates, Somalian militants, and Taufiq, Vikrant’s creepy nemesis at the port authority. Chris Gxalaba, who plays Taufiq, oscillates between Nelson Mandela style sermonising to evil gleefulness.

Gomber’s conniving Vikrant leads the cast, screaming hoarse when things don’t go his way, or simply glowering in a cloud of cigarette smoke. His theatrical interpretation of his character is second only to Chandan Roy Sanyal’s hedonistic ship-owner, Ajay Kotwal.

A side plot about a house help’s missing son distracts from the hostage drama. Avika’s actions are completely incomprehensible and Vikrant’s right-hand man Gupta (Chirag Vohra) also becomes completely dispensable to the goings-on. At eight episodes of 45 minutes each, with some incompatible performances, the middle episodes get sluggish and repetitive. Rajat Kapoor is measured and effective as the anxious captain managing the pirates and his own crew’s insecurities, egos and weaknesses. But the ship’s crew is particularly benign, untrained in dealing with this situation. The international authorities, negotiators, diplomats and navy barely intervene.

As a result, the writers forget to give the characters any shades or nuance. Besides the innocent crew on board, there is no one to root for. The expanse and loneliness of the open waters and the scale of the ship are under-explored. The tension and urgency of the fate of the ship are compromised with flashbacks, port politics in Mogadishu, a pirate training camp in Harardhere, a father-son tussle in Kiev, a fractured family in Mogadishu. Additionally, the jaunty background score is mismatched with volatile situations where no one can be trusted and where collateral damage is inevitable.

The locations and terrain along with a blend of Indian and international actors adds authenticity to a well-produced show. Jai Mehta builds tension well, and hits a high note in the execution of the action scenes. As the complex web begins to tighten its hold on its principal characters, the show slowly grips the viewer as one waits to see who survives.

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