Laal Kaptaan: An unsatisfying experiment

Film: Laal Kaptaan

Cast: Saif Ali Khan, Zoya Hussain, Manav Vij, Deepak Dobriyal, Simone Singh, Sonakshi Sinha

Director: Navdeep Singh

Rating: * * ½

Navdeep (NH10, Manorama Six Feet Under) Singh’s latest, is an attempt to tell a dark, period/ quasi historical vendetta tale that’s set somewhere around 18th Century, in North India, after the Mughals were unseated from the region. Singh and Deepak Venkatesh write up a background of historic turmoil replete with East India Company pillage and privilege while framing what exactly happens after the strange looking apparition, Gosain, a Naga sadhu (Saif Ali Khan) goes on a killing spree.

It’s not really clear then, as to why he is so bloodthirsty and it’s pretty much a given therefore that he may be a mercurial mercenary. Once that part is cleared the real deal begins to take shape. Gosain, dreadlocks, ashes et al, is shown in hot pursuit of a Pathan warlord Rehmat Khan (Manav Vij) who along with his entourage consisting of his loyal general (Amir Bashir), his Begum (Simone Singh) a child and a widowed concubine (Zoya Hussain) is traversing across Bundelkhand. As the chase continues the history between the two gets revealed and the reasons for his murderous spiel become clear. Gosain apparently, has taken all of 20 years to track Khan down, but and he also has to contend with the Marathas, and a hunter played by Deepak Dobriyal who is yet another mercenary on the make.

This film is undoubtedly an ambitious effort but the lethargy inducing pace, unremarkable dialogue, shifty characterisations, spare treatment and half-formed performances fail to garner attachment. The language is not easy on the ears and two and half hours of run-time tests your patience unmercifully. The non-linear narrative makes things interesting but that interest never develops beyond the cursory. We get that this film is ultimately about moksha and the inevitability of death but the confused treatment never achieves the high spiritual plain that the theme suggests. Shankar Ramen’s lusty cinematography brings to full life the harsh, rugged magnificence of the barren landscapes this telling favours but that is little consolation. Saif Ali Khan finds it difficult to overcome the handicap of a poorly constructed lead role that doesn’t give him much scope. This may be a unique attempt, but it’s not a successful one.