Navdeep Singh, who directed the deliciously tense Manorama: Six Feet Under and followed it up with Anushka Sharma’s powerful drama NH 10, returns with Laal Kaptaan, a period revenge saga that inspires more yawns than gasps.
Set largely in the balding ravines of Bundelkhand (but shot largely in Rajasthan), Laal Kaptaan aspires to be a sweeping tale of bloody vengeance but lacks the emotional strength to make one care about its ash-smeared and dreadlock-donning leading man, Saif Ali Khan, who plays a Naga Sadhu.
For those unfamiliar, Naga Sadhus are generally Hindu ascetics who renounce worldly possessions and take a vow of celibacy. In Laal Kaptaan, Khan’s Gosai is on a quest to smoke out Rehmat Khan (a stoic Manav Vij), a foot soldier who betrayed the Marathas and fled with their gold. However, Gosai’s bloodlust to capture Khan isn’t driven by his betrayal to Marathas but something much more sinister - a detail the film withholds till the very end.
With a wafer-thin plot (inspired by the Battle of Baxar) whose payoff hinges on the big reveal, Laal Kaptaan attempts to amp up suspense and tension but stunningly fails to sustain either. Within its first hour, the proceedings get dreary and dull, the imagery repetitive, and the dialogues (Sudip Sharma) increasingly banal.
It appears that Singh wanted Laal Kaptaan to be India’s take on the Spaghetti Western and his influences from films of Sergio Leone are apparent but setting a film against the Northern badlands with a few eccentric characters riding horses doesn’t quite cut it. The iconography of the film fails to compliment its inhabitants, who look like sword-wielding stock characters lacking both, authentic motivations and a compelling backstory.
Unlike Abhishek Chaubey’s Sonchiriya (also set in the ravines of Bundelkhand), which examined the psychological toll and the karmic burden of crime on those who commit it, Laal Kaptaan doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. It’s a hollow period drama...