Cast: Saif Ali Khan, Manav Vij, Deepak Dobriyal, Zoya Hussain, Simone Singh, Aamir Basheer
Director: Navdeep Singh
The trailer of ‘Laal Kaptaan’ looked intriguing. After all, I couldn’t think of any mainstream Bollywood actor who had played a Naga sadhu. The visuals of Saif Ali Khan — sporting dreadlocks, face smeared with ash and adorned with kohl-lined eyes — riding into town on horseback, dragging a body behind him had certainly piqued my interest. This period drama however, seems to be an exercise in futility. While Saif, in one of his interviews, hailed it as "India’s first Western”, the lacklustre plot plods on for too long.
Director Navdeep Singh seems too focused on getting the aesthetics right — an arid landscape, galloping horses, an ominous soothsayer and other characters who have their costumes and make-up on point. The same discipline, however, is not applied to the narrative: the first half meanders without making a point. We understand that Saif’s character is a man on a mission but this revenge saga is tethered to a flimsy hook that fails to engage.
Who is Gossain (Saif)? Why is he looking for Rehmat Khan? And why should we invest in his quest?
The film’s insipid first half leaves one exhausted and clueless about the intentions of this Naga sadhu. The second half is slightly more watchable with the female characters, played by Zoya Hussain and Simone Singh, making quite an impression as gutsy women who have it in them to stand up to the patriarchs. In comparison to the almost linear depiction of the male characters, the female characters are much more layered — they can, at once, be vulnerable, wilful and deceptive.
Saif approaches his role in all sincerity and I am sure he set out thinking that he would stun the audience in a never-seen-before avatar. The character is definitely fascinating; only if his portrayal was as riveting as the look. Saddled by a script that appears almost directionless, Saif can do little to salvage the film. His camaraderie with Deepak Dobriyal isn’t handled as adeptly as it was in Vishal Bharadwaj’s ‘Omkara’ (2006). Dobriyal’s character, who can find people by tracing their scent, is quirky but fails to impress.
‘Laal Kaptaan’ is a story based in 18th Century India, when the Mughal Empire is fragmenting, and while this is an interesting point in history, the same doesn’t come through in the story. There are far too many elements in this revenge period drama that aren’t tied together.
I remember Saif as Langda Tyagi in ‘Omkara’; there he was delectably evil and manipulative and it wasn’t just his character but the plot, the cast, the dialogues that all came together seamlessly to give us an incredibly watchable film.
Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about ‘Laal Kaptaan’. After sitting through this rather long revenge saga, I was left wondering what the point of the entire exercise was! In sum, you’d do well to give this one a wide berth.