Sunny Deol and Chunky Pandey in 'Lootere'
Sunny Deol and Chunky Pandey in 'Lootere'

Although there is no single moment that could be marked as the point where the 1990s truly arrived for popular Hindi cinema but perhaps there is a clear moment when it comes to pinpointing where the 1980s were bid adieu. That critical point is a film called ‘Lootere’ (1993). 

This Sunny Deol-Juhi Chawla-Chunkey Pandey-Naseeruddin Shah-Anupam Kher starrer could be brushed off as ‘typical’ commercial Hindi cinema bile, and it has enough to make you think on those lines but ironically enough ‘Lootere’ also has moments that serve as inspiration for some of the most recalled Hindi films that followed. 

‘Lootere’ features a tough as nails cop Karan (Sunny Deol) and his partner Ali (Chunkey Pandey) assigned to protect Anjali (Juhi Chawla), an eyewitness in a murder case. Bombay city has turned into an urban jungle and the only authority is Changez Lala (Anupam Kher) and he draws his power from fear often manifested by his ghulam (slave) Sikandar (Naseeruddin Shah), who kills anyone that threatens his aaka (master). 

Anjali is a nightclub singer and on Lala’s birthday, she along with hundreds of guests watches him kill inspector Rane (Anang Desai) who comes to warn him about the noose getting close. Traumatised by Lala’s brutality, Anjali calls the police and when it becomes clear that she can bring Lala down the Commissioner (Subbiraj) assigns Karan and Ali to the case. 

Lala tries every trick in the book to kill Anjali and in order to protect her till testifies Karan takes her to an undisclosed place. In the wilderness, Anjali and Karan fall in love and decide to get married but Anjali is killed by Lala’s men. Enraged Karan attacks Lala in court and is banished from the city; Ali resigns in disgust. Reporting back to duty Karan is about to come to terms with Anjali’s death when he spots Anjali in the middle of a street. 

Convinced that she is alive, Karan searches for Anjali while keeping a close eye on Lala. He finally comes face to face with Anjali and learns that she was kept alive by Lala but handed over to Sikandar as a reward. Unknown to his master Sikandar is transformed by his love for Anjali but Lala’s sister Naina (Pooja Bedi) is obsessed with Sikandar and spills the beans to Lala when Sikandar rejects her. In the end Karan, Ali, and Sikandar fight Lala and his might to take Anjali to the court. 

Written and directed by Dharmesh Darshan ‘Lootere’ finds its origins in the action films of the 1980s, which were helmed by a young breed of filmmakers such as Subhash Ghai, Bharat Rangachary, Rahul Rawail, Mukul Anand and JP Dutta but at the same time also possessed a certain softness.

While the gentleness was mostly relegated to the background in films like ‘Gautam-Govinda’ (1979), ‘Vidhaata’ (1982), ‘Kanoon Kya Karega’ (1984), ‘Meri Jung’ (1985), ‘Arjun’ (1985), ‘Ghulami’ (1985), ‘Yateem’ (1988), ‘Batwara’ ( 1989), ‘Hathyar’ (1989), ‘Khatarnaak’ (1990), and ‘Mahasangram’ (1990) to name a few, ‘Lootere’ focused more on it thanks to the Karan-Anjali love story and a handful of hummable tunes. 

It has copious amounts of dialogue-baazi between the “hero” and the “villain”, some well-executed action set pieces but what robbed ‘Lootere’ of a cult following is that it plays like three films at the same time. Across the film’s narrative the three tracks namely (a) action – Karan has to get to Lala via Anjali, (b) romance- Karan and Anjali love track forgets everything else (there is a typical Hindi film song just at the onset of the bloody climax) and (c) buddy - where the camaraderie between Karan and Ali borders on homoeroticism appear disjointed. These might have been envisioned as parallel tracks, and could have worked as intriguing sub-plots had they been executed better. 

Interestingly enough the best thing about ‘Lootere’ is Anupam Kher and the manner in which he interprets the sociopath Changez Lala. Being a Hindi film it would have been impossible for Kher to underplay Lala but he took a villain, who ran the risk of being typical and made him a character that, at places, can put Mogambo and Dr Dang to shame. Kher used his speech, his expressions (his eyes rarely blink) and his gait to near perfection as far as Hindi film bad guys went.

Being his debut, and the fact that he hailed from a family connected with films (his father Darshan Sabharwal was a distributor and his mother, Shiela, was the daughter of Nanabhai Bhatt and the elder sister of Mahesh and Mukesh Bhatt), Darshan perhaps got swayed by the need to refer to popular films. 

Some portions in ‘Lootere’ include iconic moments from ‘Shaan’ (1980), ‘Hero’ and besides a song, “Aanewale aaja” being too similar to the mood of ‘Caravan’s (1971) “Piya tu ab to aaja”, ‘Lootere’s climax is a almost like the sequence from ‘Sholay’ (1975) where Jai (Amitabh Bachchan) urges Veeru (Dharmendra) to take off with Basanti (Hema Malini) while he stops Gabbar’s henchmen. 

But at the same time there are things in ‘Lootere’ that can be seen as a direct inspiration to films like ‘Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge’ (1995) - Anjali prancing in just a shirt on the beach is too close to Simran (Kajol) singing “Mere khwaabon mein”, ‘Drohi’ (1992) - Sikandar’s obeisance to his master is like Raghav’s (Nagarjuna) loyalty to JP (Danny Denzongpa), ‘Company’ (2002) - Sikandar and Lala’s split is like Chandu (Vivek Oberoi) rebelling against Malik (Ajay Devgn) and ‘Chahat’ (1996) - Naina’s fixation with Sikander is like Reshma’s (Ramya Krishnan) for Roop (Shah Rukh Khan) to name just a few.

By: Gautam Chintamani