Cast: Saif Ali Khan, Sonakshi Sinha, Simone Singh
Director: Navdeep Singh
In Laal Kaptaan, Navdeep Singh returns to his favourite landscape — the parched hinterlands. The setting is what would become present-day UP, MP, Bihar — Bundelkhand, Awadh — and the subcontinent is about to step into the nineteenth century. There is a public hanging of dissenters. And someone voices their anger into words that travel far and wide. Words that don’t mean anything but keeps the listener awake at night. These are the words: “Life is only a steppingstone to death.” We are not sure what Laal Kaptaan is a steppingstone to. The writing credits are shared between Navdeep Singh, Deepak Venkatesha and Sudip Sharma, but they keep their cards close to their chest and the tension of a revenge saga never translates. Navdeep Singh, like in all his films, also goes for the atmosphere, even teasing us a little supernatural outtake but nothing cottons on.
Ostensibly, Laal Kaptaan is a revenge saga. It just refuses to move and shake like one. Singh wants to conjure the atmosphere of a Western and drape that over the period of volatile East India Company rule under various aristocratic and religious families. Gossain (Saif Ali Khan) is an agile Naga Sadhu with equestrian leanings. He is out to get someone for something, but Laal Kaptaan will not tell us what. The Mughal prince is running away with the Maratha’s loot of treasure, and Singh and his writers employ a mix of gags and set pieces to keep Gossain and the Marathas always at an arm’s length.
The problem here is not material. It is quite a fascinating premise to begin with because Singh touches upon several nebulous issues — a reference to Battle of Buxar where the Pashtuns refused to fight alongside people of their own ethnicity — the Rohillas — or the way Marathas treat their lower caste soldiers (they are painfully drawn in the broadest of strokes, as bumbling fools who will melt into a puddle of water at the first sight of treasure). While caste is ever-present, when it comes to revenge, religion takes a backseat. Sancho is another character, played by Deepak Dobriyal, who might be at the bottom in the caste hierarchy but knows his way through the vices of all these men.
Navdeep Singh would like to impart as much Western flavour to this as he’d like but nothing sticks. Is it Gossain working on a bounty? Or is it Gossain the outlaw that people are after? The lands are already fighting each other and with the East India Company in the mix, this is a solid subject to weave historical fiction that can also double up as a story at the opportune moment. Something Abhishek Chaubey accomplished with Sonchiriya earlier this year. Chaubey’s film took its history, mixed real and imagined characters to paint a bloody portrait of then India as reflected today and the genesis of political climate currently, while Laal Kaptaan is just hot air. It has a few moments where we like to cheer for Gossain but the film never gets out of ICU for us to be sure
The Laal Kaptaan review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.