‘Laal Kaptaan’ review: Saif Ali Khan is unable to pull off an unusual new genre

‘Laal Kaptaan’: An unnecessarily long time that tests one’s patience  

Lal Kaptaan has a bunch of talented people associated with it and their creative ambition is evident in the opening scenes itself. A piece of history from pre-independence India — the Battle of Buxor and its aftermath and the many intrigues, betrayals and deceits associated with it — become fodder for fashioning an Indian period Western about personal retribution.

A naga sadhu Gossain (Saif Ali Khan) is out on a journey to wreak vengeance on his arch enemy Rehmat Khan (Manav Vij). A mysterious, veiled woman (Sonakshi Sinha in a guest appearance), hiding a scarred cheek behind it, adds to the inscrutable evil of Rehmat with her story about him. More evidence of his perversities follows with a widow (Zoya Hussain) joining Gossain in his journey.

Set in Bundelkhand, Lal Kaptaan is quite well mounted. The camera exploits the sprawling arid landscape, the ravines and the qilas, to its utmost. The costumes while playing with the traditional look of the time also keep breaking our ‘period’ expectations, especially when it comes to the ‘tracker’ character of Deepak Dobriyal (sauntering around in a cowboy hat and dhoti) who sniffs out people better than his handsome hunting dogs. All well, but how long before someone sets Dobriyal free of this perennial clown-sidekick act he gets saddled with?

Lal Kaptaan
  • Director: Navdeep Singh
  • Starring: Saif Ali Khan, Zoya Hussain, Simone Singh, Aamir Bashir, Manac Vij, Deepak Dobriyal
  • Storyline: In the aftermath of the Battle of Buxar, in late 18th century Bundelkhand, a naga sadhu Gossain (Saif Ali Khan) sets out on a journey to seek revenge
  • Run time: 156 minutes

There is a nice political interplay between the Mughals, Marathas and the British, the talk of fast disappearing unity as against the fractured polity and urgency for self-preservation among the Rohillas. The political jibes have a touch of contemporaneity. From the Afghans to Shiva’s warriors: there’s quite a breathtaking anthropological mix of cultures and lingos as well. But all the interesting disparate elements don’t come together well enough to build the film into a compelling whole.

When it comes to mainstream Hindi cinema, Lal Kaptaan had the makings of an unusual new genre; a barbaric, brutal, surreal, picaresque fantasy. Unfortunately, it is unable to pull it off. The story itself is slight and gets deliberately puffed up to a duration of over 2.5 hours, what with persistent shifts back and forth in time and a cat-and-mouse game in which the cat either ignores the mouse, even when in sight or keeps setting him free! So scenes get heaped upon scenes, the chase seemingly leading nowhere. The twist comes at the fag end of the tale, by which time the viewers see it coming and have also had their patience tested too much to care.

Much of Saif’s performance gets hidden behind the getup: the ash, the dreadlocks and the muscularised body. Vij with his dour face doesn’t look quite evil enough, his misdeeds notwithstanding. It’s Zoya Hussain with the short hair, kohl-eyed ethnic chic look who stands out and sparkles, as does her distinctive nose ring.

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Printable version | Nov 23, 2021 2:23:35 AM |

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