Lootere Review: The Series Is Both Gripping And Exhilarating

Lootere Review: The marital drama strand, bolstered by strong performances from Gomber and Khanvilkar, adds emotional depth to the plot.

Lootere Review: The Series Is Both Gripping And Exhilarating

A still from the series. (courtesy: YouTube)

First-time director Jai Mehta's high seas thriller Lootere rests on the defensive and/or despicable acts of men driven by greed, ambition and duress. Set in an African nation whose people are all at sea, and not only a metaphorical sense, the eight-episode series is chockfull of action.    

The initial release of two episodes of the fast-paced Disney+Hotstar series will be followed by a weekly drop every Thursday over the next month and a half.

The action unfolds in a country on the brink of a civil war, a place where dangers abound. The pulse-pounding rhythm of Lootere is accentuated by Achint Thakkar's propulsive background score and a lively theme track.

With Hansal Mehta serving as showrunner, the series is expectedly pretty much in the inspired-by-true-events zone. The seasoned filmmaker's stamp on Lootere is palpable. He brings his proven flair for believable drama to amply bear upon the Shaailesh R. Singh-produced series.

Despite its crime drama moorings - Lootere is unfamiliar territory for Mehta in terms of both location and genre - the show isn't a conventional swashbuckler. It delves into the seamier side of shipping in a world infested with dangerous, self-serving men out to make a killing.  

Off the coast of Somalia, a band of pirates take control of a ship carrying a contraband consignment linked to the larger volatile politics of the trouble-torn nation. In a universe where anything goes, the lootere of the title are no worse than the people who want the captured vessel and its precious cargo salvaged.

The company that owns the ship, the man who ordered the cargo, the outfit the shipment is destined for, the crew caught in the crossfire and up against constant threats of violence and the pirates determined to extract their pound of flesh fight an intensely bloody battle in Lootere, an action drama that turns increasingly gory as the stakes rise.

The men involved in the fracas are deadly and duplicitous. Betrayal and back-stabbing come easy to them. The story by Anshuman Sinha and the script by Vishal Kapoor and Suparn S. Varma incorporate the personal and the emotional in the wider, wilder world that the show is located in.

A woman running out of patience with a husband who has little time for his family, a mother grieving for a missing son, an amoral immigrant-businessman dealing with the hostility of the natives, boys and men compelled by privation to take to piracy and unholy alliances forged with the aim of fishing in troubled waters.

The director makes the most of the mix of Indian and African actors at his disposal. Lootere is the first Indian web show filmed on the African continent. The location lends it a distinct colour and texture. South Africa stands in for Mogadishu and a couple of smaller Somali towns.

In capturing a range of spaces - shantytowns, the ocean, the bridge, deck and cabins on the ship, roads running through towns and villages, bungalows and hovels - cinematographer Jall Cowasji uses dramatic lighting and angles that heighten the tension and unease in the heart of the darkness that envelopes the landscape.

The mission to save the ship and its cargo and rescue the crew constitutes the crux of the series. A nation's port authority, a freighter and one Indian family face severe turmoil as the pirates (among whom is a pair of siblings, one the commander, the other a rank rookie) dig their heels in and demand a hefty ransom.

At the centre of the plot is an amoral Indian businessman who grapples with a floundering business and adversaries out to eliminate him. He wants to be re-elected president of the Mogadishu Port Authority. Well-entrenched forces are bent upon thwarting him.

Vikrant Gandhi (Vivek Gomber, who leads the ensemble with aplomb), raised in Somalia and married to Avika (a terrific Amruta Khanvilkar), daughter of the man from whom he inherited the business, is in no mood to concede any ground to his rivals. But will the men he regards as friends in need - Tawfik (Chris Gxalaba), Gupta (Chirag Vohra) and Bilal (Gaurav Sharma) - stand by him amid the gathering storm?  

Vikrant lives with Avika and their son Aaryaman (Varin Roopani). His plans go for a toss when Somali pirates attack a Ukrainian ship owned by a Kyiv-based company. The firm's managing director, the womanising and smarmy Ajay Kotwal (Chandan Roy Sanyal), is a long-time associate of Vikrant's.

Vikrant has reason to prevent the ship from reaching Mogadishu. To save the shipment, he turns to Bilal for help. The latter unleashes the pirates. The ship's crew led by Captain A.K. Singh (Rajat Kapoor), is pushed to wall. They struggle to keep their wits about them and the belligerent pirates at bay.

The pirates are commanded by Karim Barkhad (Martial Batchamen), whose pacifist ways rile a hot-headed gang member, Koombe (Athenkosi Mfamela), who is prone to plying off the handle. When the Indian embassy in Kenya learns of the standoff, the ambassador (Anant Mahadevan) ropes in undercover agent Ghulam Waris (Aamir Ali). The latter offers Vikrant immunity in exchange for assistance in rescuing the ship's crew.

The women in a what is a man's world are perpetually at odds with the goings-on. Among the 13 deck hands is the tough Ayesha (Preetika Chawla), a woman who takes nothing lying down. She fights shoulder to shoulder with her mates.

Another woman, the pregnant wife of one of the crew members, Gulrez Singh (Nareshh Mallik), is also on the ship. The two women on board go into hiding when the pirates strike.

Back in Mogadishu, Vikrant's wife Avika fights a battle of her own. A policeman in tow, she travels to a part of Somalia deemed unsafe for women. Where in the world is any place safe for women, Avika asks the inspector when the latter tries to dissuade her from making the trip.

Avika's mission is to find the missing son of her maid Jamilah (Mamello Makhetha). Her self-obsessed husband does not so much as lift a finger to help the distraught mother until his own marriage is in danger of unravelling.

The marital drama strand, bolstered by strong performances from Gomber and Khanvilkar, adds emotional depth to the plot. The rest of the show is all about the men gunning for each other.

Rajat Kapoor is perfect as the captain who stands his ground in the face of great adversity. Preetika Chawla, Harry Parmar and Gaurav Paswala, playing crew members, deliver the goods. Among the Cape Town-based actors in the cast, three stand out - Martial Batchamen as the pirate commander, Athenkosi Mfamela as the rebellious gang member and Chris Gxalaba as Tawfik, the man Vikrant Gandhi turns to when his port presidency is threatened.

With its unblemished production values and high dramatic traction, Lootere is a show that is both gripping and exhilarating.                    


Vivek Gomber, Amruta Khanvilkar, Rajat Kapoor, Martial Batchamen Tchana, Preetika Chawla


Jai Mehta