Laal Kaptaan Movie Review: Saif Ali Khan Hunts Desperately for a Better Film
Cast: Saif Ali Khan, Amir Bashir, Zoya Hussain, Sonakshi Sinha, Deepak Dobriyal
Director: Navdeep Singh
Laal Kaptaan, is an ambitious story about deceit and valour. The film takes a quick visit back in history to the times when East India Company was making rapid strides in India, buying allies and bullying foes –Mughals, Rohillas, Marathas- to establish complete control over India. It really is a great story by director Navdeep Singh and Deepak Venkatesh. Unfortunately by the time the story moves from the storyboard onto film it gets lost in translation.
Based sometime after the Battle of Buxar that took place in October 1764, we see a strange, apparition addressed as Gosain, a Naga sadhu (Saif Ali Khan) taking on enemies and demolishing them. Through the early killings, it is established that Gosain is a mercenary and soon we find him cut across the arid landscape of Bundelkhand chasing a Pathan warlord Rehmat Khan (Manav Vij). The warlord, besides his loyal general (Amir Bashir) is accompanied by his Begum (Simone Singh) a child and a widowed concubine (Zoya Hussain). As the layers around Gosain and his mysterious adventures begin to peel off, we get to know the genesis of his vendetta story better.
Navdeep Singh, who's partial to a darker palette of stories creates an exotic, spaghetti-western meets Daku film landscape aided by Maxima Basu’s distinctive Cowboy meets Pirates costumes. But otherwise, technically, the film is on sound ground with Shankar Ramen’s deft cinematography exquisitely capturing the beauty of barren landscapes.
Saif Ali Khan, who has a yen for quirky themes and characters—remember his Russian avatar in Go Goa Gone or even Langda Tyagi in Omkara—gives you another dark riveting and brooding character. This time though Khan's performance suffers for want of a tighter script. Unfortunately, all the support characters who could have bolstered his performance are underwritten and one note for the most part. Although Deepak Dobriyal as the tracker and Madan Deodhar as a Maratha chieftain do provide comic relief, there’s little they can do to help the script along. Manav Vij and Amir Bashir, the forces of antagonism, are reduced to a whimper and criminally wasted. The women—Simone Singh as Begum and Zoya Hussain, the widow, have a hint of feistiness but the screenplay allows them very little room to perform.
Even though Singh keeps away from the sentimentality common to Hindi cinema, Laal Kaptaan lacks pace and certain scenes feel unbearably long. Dialogues, so essential for a historical thriller like this one, falter and flail in critical scenes, puncturing the impact of a unique story. As far as Hindi films go, Laal Kaptaan treads a path less trodden, but it meanders and spectacularly loses steam. It should have cut to the chase, literally and figuratively, but instead, it becomes an unbearably long and pointless pursuit.
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