“Disappointing is the middle word for the film that’s crippled with a tiring and snail-paced narrative”
At the outset, the film’s title is misleading as Saif Ali Khan, who plays the eponymous character, is not leading any team here. He is a lone, self-motivated and revenge-consumed naga sadhu in the hunt of his prey, Rehmat Khan (Manav Vij) for the last 20 years. Navdeep Singh‘s Laal Kaptaan is a tale of revenge and its karmic connections set during the British Raj and traces back to the Battle of Buxar timeline.
The plot follows the pursuit of Gosain(Saif Ali Khan) who is desperately looking for a tyrannical warlord, Rehmat Khan , in the barren ravines of Bundelkhand. Frankly, the narrative, which promised dollops of intrigue in its chapter-wise release of teasers, is as barren as the alleys and landscapes it so gorgeously captures in the lenses.
In his journey, he is accompanied by a soft-hearted widow (Zoya Hussain) who harbors secrets. He also seeks help from a tracker (Deepak Dobriyal), with two skinny pet dogs Dukhilal and Sukhilal, whose role, I found, is similar to what Aamir Khan had done in Thugs of Hindostan – Dobriyal and his pets are equally adept in sniffing to locate their targets. The malnourished dogs stand as a metaphor for the lack of meat in the film’s flabby length that stretches beyond a butt-hurting 2 and half hours. Jabeen Merchant’s editing needed prudent scissors in this case.
Navdeep has a flair for aesthetics and the period setting with the moribund Qilas is evocative (Shankar Ramen’s cinematography is top-notch and Maxima Basu’s costumes captures its ethos competently) with the haunting background score by Benedict Taylor, but the film doesn’t possess the bruising intensity that his previous outing NH-10 was powered with. Also, the chief reveal at the end doesn’t quite come with a prelude of urgency or mystery. Saif provides most of the flesh to the skeletal narrative with his unmistakable spunk. With the dreadlocks, kohl-lined brooding eyes and ash-smeared face, he imbues the character with the requisite passion for revenge. This is an experimental role for him and the actor attacks his part with a disarming honesty.
The surrounding cast also does a good job. Manav Vij as the hideous and evil antagonist renders a rather staccato performance. In this male-dominated territory, Zoya Hussain and Simone Singh hold their own and come across as vibrant and fierce women. Do you remember Simone had played Saif’s suitor in Kal Ho Na Ho? Saif also collaborates with his Sacred Games colleagues – Aamir Bashir and Neeraj Kabi. While Bashir is hardly recognizable as Rehmat Khan’s loyal sergeant – Aadam Khan, Kabi makes the most from a cameo. Sonakshi Sinha gets one sequence and is passable.
Laal Kaptaan could have been much more, had it pumped in more intrigue and layers into the plot.