Let’s face it: Dara Singh is reason enough for me to watch any film, and when the rare subtitled one comes along it’s practically Diwali in my household. So you will understand how much it pains me to say this, but Lootera is a really bad movie. How can a Dara pirate (subtitled “sea dacoit”) film be bad? I am not sure. But Dara and heroine Nishi have zero chemistry, unlike the better if rather less complete Nasihat, and the pacing is just abysmal. The writers keep writing themselves into corners from which they can only escape with overly glib plot developments, and the director fails to understand which parts of the story he should be lavishing time and attention on. It even manages to be sexist, and these sorts of movies are usually a refuge from that.
There were enough things to get me through it: Dara’s ruffled sea dacoit shirts, Prithviraj Kapoor, dancer Kammo as a female sea dacoit, lots of sparkle and terrible wigs, and lovely songs including a Bela Bose dance aboard a sea dacoit ship. Plus the subtitles, inept as they are, are often hilarious. And when I tell you that Memsaab favorites Hiralal, Jeevan and Rajan Haksar vigorously ply their histrionic powers you will understand that subtlety is no hallmark of the acting either (yes, I know I am putting that in the “plus” column, it needs the support).
Poor Nishi—and I count myself as a fan—is hampered from the very beginning. She plays Princess Shabana of Amania, a woman who keeps slaves and is arrogant, entitled, bloodthirsty and just plain cruel. She is also inflicted with hideous hairstyles and wigs which make her head look like a potato. Most unfortunate!
The stylists have done the men in this film no favors either, unless orange frizzy hair is your thing.
Shabana’s father, the Sultan of Amania (Hiralal) gained the throne by killing the previous occupant and imprisoning his wife (Leela Mishra) in the dungeon where she has languished for years. Before being caught she managed to give her two sons the Princes to a faithful servant who escaped with them; she has been waiting a long time for them to return to her, and the Sultan lives in permanent fear of that same possibility.
In the meantime, though, Helen!
You said it, girl! These festivities are interrupted by the Sultan’s Senapati, Nadula (Rajan Haksar), who brings bad news. One of Amania’s ships has been looted and captured by a feared pirate named Shahzaman (Prithviraj Kapoor).
Not only that, but Nadula has made another discovery (or as he puts it, “one more terrorizing news”) which causes the Sultan’s eyes to practically bug out. Shahzaman has a tattoo of the sun on one of his brawny arms, the symbol of the royal family of Amania. The Sultan quickly orders his Vizier (Jeevan) to bring up the old Queen from her cell. When she refuses to answer his questions about her sons, he orders one of Shabana’s newly purchased slaves Darang (Dara, and subbed Darank but I think it’s Darang)—who hilariously defies her commands, which are all about watching him fight—to whip her. I have never loved Leela Mishra so much as I do here; her face is priceless as she listens aghast to the Sultan’s instructions.
Oh and hmmmmmmm *steeples fingertips together* who could the second son possibly be? Darang is not willing to whip an old lady and attacks the Sultan instead. With the help of fellow slave, friend, and CSP Dil Farosh (Maruti), he fights his way through an army of soldiers and races away on horseback with Dil Farosh and an arrow in his arm. They take shelter in a rocky outcrop, where Darang pulls the arrow out of his own arm because Dil Farosh is the CSP and a coward and Darang is, well, Dara.
They elude capture but early the next morning Darang hears the Princess Shabana crying for help as her runaway horses and chariot carry her across a river of bubbling toxic waste or maybe hamburger meat. I don’t know. But I do love that there appears to be blue sky under the bridge too—a Salvador Dali landscape, if you will.
Darang saves her life and she has him arrested, chained in the dungeon, and whipped. I don’t know, I just don’t like her—what do you think? Apparently the writers at this point realize that they aren’t exactly setting the stage for romance: Shabana reflects for about two minutes on her perfidy and then goes to Darang and says “If I wash away your blood with my tears and my hair will you LOVE ME?” and he says, “Okay.” (I may be paraphrasing her exact words.)
My sister and I snort in disbelief.
The Vizier witnesses this touching scene and is furious, because naturally he wants to marry the Princess and gain the crown for himself one day. When Shabana sends her maid Dil Fareb (Kanchanmala) to show Darang a secret way out the Vizier is waiting with a few soldiers, and even though Darang had managed to fight off at least ten times that many earlier, he is imprisoned again.
Meanwhile Dil Farosh has snuck back into the castle and we now lose a lot of time on the CSP as he romances Dil Fareb while her mother (Tun Tun) spies on them. Even Tun Tun cannot save this tired old CSP.
Having wasted valuable minutes and film on it, the writers now remember that they have other plot points to cover so they’d best hurry it all along. In the dungeon, Darang hears the guard refusing to give the old Queen some water. He bends the bars on his cell and does away with the guard (I guffaw at the subtitle as he is flung face-first into a wall of metal spikes).
About ten seconds later Darang and the Queen discover that they are, in fact, mother and son (their cries of “Ma?” “Beta!” “Ma!” take longer than the actual discovery).
I have to giggle because we have seen the sun tattoo on Prithviraj’s enormous arm and it is quite large, whereas Darang’s is hidden under the relatively small amulet he sports on his arm. I know that it’s nit-picky, but these are the things one thinks about when one is bored.
Ma explains to Darang (in flashback) how he and his brother were sent by her out of the palace to a waiting ship; she asks where his brother is. Darang has no idea, having had no memory of even having a brother. They are interrupted by some guards who fling a knife at Darang which ends up in the Queen instead. She dies after Darang fights off the soldiers and touches her feet.
After his romantic advances are rejected by Shabana, the Vizier goes and tattles about her love affair with Darang to her father. The Sultan sends her to her room and orders that Darang be executed the next morning. Since the method of execution is needlessly elaborate, Darang manages to escape with the help of the Princess (whose life he saves one more time) and happily his buddy Dil Farosh is waiting for him. Darang tells Shabana that her father killed both his parents and stole his throne and vows revenge, and she and Dil Fareb watch forlornly as the two men escape into the sea before returning to her furious father.
She tells the Sultan that Darang is one of the true heirs of Amania, and in an apoplectic fit he sends the Vizier off to hunt him down and kill him.
Darang and Dil Farosh manage to swim to one of the Sultan’s slave ships. They defeat the commander (Habib in a fabulous outfit) and free the slaves, who happily sign on as sea dacoits with Darang as their fearless leader. He laughs and laughs as they plunder and pillage, and begins to wear ruffled shirts with laces.
Word of Darang’s exploits reach Shahzaman, who sends his men to demand that Darang pay a tribute to him as the other sea dacoits do. Darang throws them into the sea and I perk up a bit at this point, since the long-lost unequally-tattooed brothers are now at odds with each other.
And Bela Bose entertains our sea dacoits with a fabulous song and dance onboard.
Finally Darang remembers that he is supposed to be avenging his parents’ murder at the hands of the Sultan, and he orders the ship to return to Amania just in time to be framed by the Vizier after he murders the Sultan himself. The Vizier tells Shabana that Darang is the culprit and of course she believes him, although he’s made no secret of his ambitions. She angrily rejects Darang when he shows up at the palace. He manages to escape, and when the Vizier tries to force Shabana to marry him she too runs away on one of Amania’s ships—and soon runs into trouble, when a kickass female sea dacoit named Babina (Kammo) captures her.
Except that instead of the two women fighting each other with swords, they wrestle and pull each other’s hair while the men do the sword-fighting. Eye-roll.
Babina—unlike Darang—is very keen to stay on Shahzaman’s good side, and she realizes that he will appreciate Shabana’s beauty. She isn’t wrong! Smitten on sight by her, Shahzaman offers Babina 50,000 dinars for her (although Babina only asks him for 10,000).
Will Darang come to rescue her even though she has rejected him? Will she ever figure out that he’s innocent? What will Shahzaman do when he meets Darang, who has already pissed him off once? Will they ever figure out that they are brothers? Will the Vizier get his comeuppance?
There is still a LOT of action to come, much of it irritating. I look at the screencaps above, and still say to myself: “How?! How was this not good?” But all the B-movie fun of it is subsumed by its more “mainstream” aspects: the notion of women as property, to be fought over and won (and not allowed to fight, themselves, even though one of them is a pirate); ridiculously over-the-top melodrama; losers who, despite being fundamentally good people, must die because they haven’t won. Plus, even for a Dara stunt film, the fight scenes go on and on and on and on.
Probably my favorite characters in this are Prithviraj’s Shahzaman and Kammo’s Babina. Shahzaman is truly a pillar of iron of human powers, larger-than-life with lusty appetites—a true Kapoor! Indeed, his fervent wooing of Shabana reminds me a lot of Shammi. And Babina is the only female character with any brains or autonomy. Dara is Dara, which is never a bad thing although next to the charisma of Prithviraj he pales a little. He also provides further proof of the Kapoorean Theorem, which establishes that handsome men make hideous women.
In short (I know, too late!), this was a terrible let-down. I would blame it on my being drunk but for the fact that my sister didn’t like it either. I guess I can always watch Samson again instead, and just the songs from this one. At least they are subtitled now.