Lootera (1965)

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.

52 Comments to “Lootera (1965)”

  1. ‘Kapoorean Theorem, which establishes that handsome men make hideous women’,I have seen Shashi in drag, but have the others have also done such roles;(esp.Shammi)?
    I think Shammi was the closest of the three brothers in the looks and style to Prithviraj.Is his voice different here to the Akbar in Mughal-E-Azam? I find it a little screechy (sorry!).

    • No, I think it’s similar. I don’t find it screechy though :) Both Shammi and Shashi looked very like him I think.

      • @Memsaab- I have heard someone say that Raj Kapoor inherited Prithvi’s acting skills, Shammi his voice and Shashi his looks! But I agree both of the younger siblings resemble him in many ways.

        Coming to this movie, this “..But I do love that there appears to be blue sky under the bridge too—a Salvador Dali landscape, …” is sheer genius. In getting Darang punished in spite of his saving her, I suppose the princess was just staying true to the spirit of this painting. :)

    • @ chris: Shammi in his all cross-dressing glory in Chali Chali Kaisi Hawa – Bluff Master

  2. And Prithviraj is the son of Leela Mishra!! reminds me of ‘Munimji’.

  3. memsaab, I looked at the screen caps and said ‘I want’ (I *love* raja-rani, lost-brothers, kickass-female-pirates.). Then I read the review. :( Not even for the sight of Prithviraj Kapoor in yellow ruffled shirt and sky-blue pants can I think of sitting through this.

    Why, oh why, cannot a film live up to the sum of its screen caps? said she woefully. :(

  4. sorry that the eagerly awaited Lootera was such a disappointment.
    does Dara have a cross-dressing song again?

  5. I judge a movie by its songs and after watching the seven songs of this movie, I have judged it to be an excellent movie. :)

  6. Not unusual to find lovely songs in a boring movie, in those days. At least the songs are good to look at too. I love that Bela Bose number from this film.

  7. Kapoorean theorem? That’s a real hoot! And yes, handsome men do seem to make the ugliest women, esp if the men seem to be Shammi Kapoor and Dara Singh, right? I am still laughing about it!

    I have never seen this movie, and now I probably never will, but the songs of this movie were hits in those days, and it looks like there are others, including you, who agree with me about this. Thanks for warning me off this movie.

  8. By the way, I am wondering who got Dara Singh that fantastic wardrobe with all those embroidered ruffled shirts after he became a pirate? Did they have tailors on their pirate ships?

    • I think he and Shahzaman had the same tailor, because they both wore ruffled shirts with laces and embroidery (sometimes). Perhaps there was a traveling sea dacoit tailor!

  9. Since the movie seems bad, I’m glad you wrote up the review, because at least that was a lot of fun to read. Dara Singh does look hideous, horrid as a woman. God, that’s a sight not easy to forget.

  10. Greta,
    I knew this one would be “Haseena Atom Bomb” bad, the moment I saw the second screencap of Dara! (bending bars?) That summarised the review for me. Your subconscious dislike of the film did shine through there.

    Best part of the review for me: the “Accept Shabana. Darang” screencap…. “Me Jane, You Tarzan” flashed past me :-D LOL! It is too much to wish if any of us will ever be recruited by the horrid %^%^%^ DVD makers?

    Agree with you that Shammi and Shashi looked more Pritviraj-like than Raj. You can almost measure the swagger likeliness between Shammi and Pritvi in Rajkumar.

    I share your dismay of the portrayal of women in Indian movies. Either “on pedestal” or “in gutter” sums it up nicely. But it was a collective malaise that has plagued all film industries. Some industries have grown more sophisticated at couching them as time went on. Looking at the year of the film (1965) reminded me of a Hollywood film from 1956 (interchanged numbers ;-)) called “Forbidden Planet”. God, the skirt/dresses on that heroine and the way she was portrayed on the film! Is it any wonder that the industry produces a Bankhead or a Madhubala from time to time?

    You have to dig up some classic like Guddi or Anamika and write another review to wash this one out of our minds. And going by the “I, legend” Helen screencap, even, “O haseena zulfon waali” review would keep all of us going for a few more days (Just watched it now, and Helen and Shammi were, as always, SUBLIME).

    Have a good week ahead.

    • Oh it isn’t even close to HAB bad! But then, very little is. And re: subtitlers—I know! How many people in India speak pristine English and would be happy to subtitle movies? *SIGH* (Although they were entertaining—I’m still laughing at “Oh no!” as the guard’s forehead is impaled on a spike.)

      And yes, Hollywood and other film industries are sexist too, and it irritates me there as well!

      • Phraseology change then: “HAB territory” ;-)

        “Oh No” has already made its way to the list of new, unexpected, famous last words ;-)

  11. Oh Memsaab, I am so shocked that you didn’t love this one as much as I did! Maybe the pretty colors and pretty people helped me past the bad stuff. LOL! Or maybe it is impossible for me to dislike anything that Nishi is in…today I watched her play the part of a mom in a Daisy Irani starrer…that is how dedicated I am!

    • Pretty colors and pretty people can get me through a lot too, but this just had too much bad stuff to overcome :( I hated Nishi’s character in this, which didn’t help at all. Where does she play Daisy Irani’s mom?

  12. Isn’t today Helen’s birthday?

    This article from Filmfare says so, How come everyone thinks her b’day is on Oct 21?

  13. Just a quick and brief comment this time. For a change. ;-)

    Love the review, Greta. Haven’t seen this movie – and I don’t think I’ll watch it either, although I have a high tolerance level for Dara Singh movies. I might just catch the songs on youtube – they do look fun (esp the Bela Bose dance).

    LOVE the Kapoorean theorem. :-) Btw, any idea which movie has Raj Kapoor in drag?

    • Is there a movie with Raj Kapoor in drag? I haven’t seen it, do tell!

      • I thought you’d know – but then this is Raj Kapoor we are talking about so maybe your knowledge on the subject (knowledge having a direct correlation with interest level) may be considerably less than that on the other Kapoors. :-)

        No, I myself don’t know of a movie with Raj Kapoor in drag. Maybe there’s an interesting piece of trivia here which somebody else can throw light on. For that matter, even Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand don’t seem to be “ready recall” on this subject. Or, for that matter, Guru Dutt.

        Hey, maybe “male actors in drag” could be an interesting subject for a post in itself. :-)

        • @ raja: In fact I have been collecting songs on this subject since July, witht he the plan to do my favourite 10 men in drag songs. :-) Greta has helped me get two, and both with Dara Singh! But I don’t know if I’ll manage the post in coming days. :-(
          Maybe end Jan. 2012. So to say next year.

  14. Not exactly , But He acts like a female qawwali singer (in first half of the song)in Mera naam joker song: daag na lag jaaye kahin aag na lag jaaye

  15. One thing always beat me. Why was Dharmendra considered the original he-man? Dara Singh had taken off his shirt in this movie which was released a year earlier than “Phool Aur Patthar”.

    Dharam did take off his shirt for a major boxing sequence in his debut “Dil Bhi Tera Hum Bhi Tere” (1960), but the movie was a flop for his good physique to be noticed.

    He again took off his shirt in “Shola Aur Shabnam” (1961), though that too somehow went unnoticed.

    Somehow beats me….

    • Well Dharam is pretty much a very handsome he-man indeed. And Dara’s types of films didn’t get the audiences or respect that Dharmendra’s generally did I suppose, not that they shouldn’t have!

  16. I had seen Lootera when I was 16. I m 63 now. Dara Singh was sort of a favourite bcos of the stunt movies we used to enjoy. Dilip Kumar’s Leader, released at the same time flopped while Lootera was a hit. I too dont remember Dev,Dilip,Rajkapoor in drag.I m all for nostalgia.

  17. How could you dislike a movie that has so much beef on display ;-) Nishi’s hairdos were pretty standard for those days – but you made me look at them in new light – it does make her look like a potato! And Mr. Prithviraj looks like a blimp in his first cap. And your mention of Kapoorean Theorem first made me think that Mr. Prithviraj was appearing in drag – made my mind boggle :D

    • Nishi’s hair looked better towards the end of the movie, maybe someone got her a mirror :D

      I will bet Prithviraj did appear in drag, in the theater if not in any films!

  18. Subtitled DVD and diwali at home – lol! As usual your review seems to be much more interesting than the movie itself. Kudos to you for sitting through such boring movies and taking the time to write and share your views too!

    I have fond memories of watching Dara in Sikander E Azam with a young and lovely mumtaaz. Apart from that i have only seen Dara in his older form in Kal Ho Na Ho and Jab We Met.

  19. memsaab ji,

    The very first sentence in your this review is,”Dara Singh is reason enough for me to watch any film…..”

    Many people are astonished and puzzled to find that many people,why,a large chunk of cine viewers like Dara Singh movies.They can not fathom,how a person who can not act naturally,who can not avoid feeling uneasy in lip-synching songs and who can not run around trees chasing Heroines,can even be called an Actor ? They also wonder why on earth there are producers who pour money on such films.

    I am glad,atleast it is accepted that a large section of viewers like Dara singh films !

    Since I am a Darasingh fan and have not missed any Dara film so far,I can analyse why we like his films.
    Dara Singh is a symbol of Power and strength and as invariably,in Indian movies Good prevails over Bad,he was projected as the saviour of the helpless and nemesis of the oppressors.

    People went to see Dara Singh for the qualities he represented,not for his looks or histrionics(for that you had the Dev Anands and Dilip kumars).
    People always thronged to see Gandhi or Nehru for what they stood for,and not for their looks !

    Similarly,every single viewer of a Dara film came out praising his prowess in punishing the evil do-ers in the film,forget about the story,screenplay and other technicalities.These films also satisfied the child in every viewer who is awed by the power and strength of Dara Singh.

    Seeing Dara Singh film is normally a delight and reaffirms our faith that evil can be punished.

    Jai Dara Singh !


    • I have to say that I think Dara is about as good-looking as it gets, really!!! But agree with you about the qualities he represented being the draw, they are for me as well. And generally with these films all of the suffocating conservatism of many “mainstream” movies is missing—the women are gleefully empowered and equal participants, they are secular in nature (religion often doesn’t even make an appearance), the music is always really wonderful, and they are just so much fun! I think what ruined this one for me was the pacing and the sexism in it. But I still love Dara, always will :) Dara Singh zindabad!

  20. wow,you seem totally into masala commercial cinema.My choice is radically different from yours,but nevertheless,i must admit that your writing is just fantastic.

    Coming back to Lootera,it seems from your writing that this one is truly terrible.It does not seem that i would be able to sit through it coz if a true blue dara singh fan like you finds this film bad,then for someone like me who isn’t exactly a dara fan,this one seems difficult to swallow.Its not that i have not seen any Dara film [i have seen quite a few them] but somehow i have a kind of a neutral feeling towards him.As i said before,my taste is quite different yours.Anyways,i ilke when people have different kinds of tastes and appreciate each others choices and tastes.The world would have been so boring if it was not so.
    Lastly,thanks for giving a link to that Bela bose number.I did not knew about it but it is really beautiful and wildly catchy.

  21. I dont know how the movie was.But,the songs were very nice such as kisi ko pata na chale baat ka…

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