‘Lootere’ series review: Ambitious hijack drama on the high seas

Embarking from the hectic world of Mumbai’s news hubs and financial sectors, filmmaker Hansal Mehta ventures into the vast ocean with his latest epic mini-series Lootere. Commanding the helm as showrunner, Mehta presents an 8-episode journey directed by his progeny, Jai (with Shaailesh Singh as the listed creator; screenplay credits to Vishal Kapoor and Suparn S Varma, based on a story by Anshuman Sinha). Set along the treacherous African coastline, this series ambitiously marries the thrills of a highjack drama with the complexities of a political conspiracy and a transnational crime narrative. Carrying the heft of an overwhelming plot, much like the doomed voyage of the Titanic, it plows through narrative complexities, eventually succumbing to its own storytelling enormity.

The series’ foundation parallels the narrative of Captain Phillips (2013), where Tom Hanks’s confrontation with Somali pirates aboard a merchant vessel captivated audiences. However, within Lootere, our anchor point diverges as Rajat Kapoor, portraying the endangered ship’s captain, doesn’t serve as the central focus. Instead, the spotlight turns to Vikrant (Vivek Gomber), an Indian-origin entrepreneur in Mogadishu, Somalia, whose failing business and the crumbling trading empire lay the groundwork for an impending disaster. When a cargo ship bearing illicit goods, heading from Ukraine, spirals into a calamity inflicted by pirates, the narrative cascades into unpredictable depths.

The narrative pulse of Lootere quickens not with the pursuit but with the board and seize operations carried out by the pirates, laying siege to the tactical crew management onboard. The Indian native captain, AK Singh (Kapoor), along with his predominantly Indian crew, grapples with the imminent threat amidst a web of land-based negotiation plots and deceitful diplomacy. Chandan Roy Sanyal features as Ajay Kotwal, a flamboyant shipping tycoon entwined in the sinister events.

Lootere (Hindi, English)

Showrunner: Hansal Mehta

Cast: Rajat Kapoor, Vivek Gomber, Amruta Khanvilkar, Chandan Roy Sanyal, Martial Batchamen Tchana

Episodes: 2 out of 8

Run-time: Approximately 40-45 minutes per episode

Storyline: A gripping tale of a ship hijacked off the coast of Somalia, setting a complex series of events into motion

Delhi’s subtle influence is sensed from afar, with Africa’s acknowledgment of Indian cultural diplomacy noted disparagingly by a pirate. This series stands as one of the first significant Hindi streamers rooted largely in African soil, though shot within the pandemic confines of South Africa. It depicts a stylized version of the Somali terror faction, Al-Shabaab, reimagined as ‘Al-Muharib’, and takes viewers into a pirate boot camp where young souls are drafted into perilous sea ventures, all captured with an oddly detached, almost documentary-like gaze.

Some narrational idiosyncrasies unfold rewarding complexities, wherein the pirates are strictly advised against killing the crew—a knowledge that steels the audience’s anticipation. Jai Mehta, embarking on his solo directorial debut, reveals a flair for action sequences with authentic tussles and critical junctures in tight spaces. Yet, the series sometimes leans on graphic violence more for impact than necessity, a move that may seem desperate or startling, especially considering Mehta’s typical restraint.

The series’ linguistic choices can be jarring, with Somali characters interacting in English, while Indian characters, regardless of disparate backgrounds, share a common vernacular peppered with localized curses. Vivek Gomber, renowned for nuanced performances, is cast against type as a heavy-handed tycoon—an unfortunate contrast that is highlighted when he switches to a softer tone within his family scenes. Rajat Kapoor delivers a tempered and magnetic performance, though his screen presence leaves us desiring more.

The expansive narrative of Lootere, bloated by subplots and a sprawling cast, often dilutes audience engagement. Its most captivating characters are those held captive on the ship, including the pirate leader Barkhad (Martial Batchamen Tchana), who personifies the struggle of leaving homeland strife for the uncertain refuge of the sea. Vikrant’s quest for prosperity in the Gulf of Eden parallels Barkhad’s partial achievement of it; both are ensnared in a seaborne odyssey driven by ambition and survival.

The initial two episodes of Lootere are available on Disney+ Hotstar, with new ones premiering each Friday.

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