Laal Kaptaan Movie Review: Sensational; but a stretch, sadly

Updated: Oct 18, 2019, 08:16 IST | Mayank Shekhar | Mumbai

In Laal Kaptaan we effectively experience a valiant attempt at merging the East, with the Western

Saif Ali Khan in Laal Kaptaan
Saif Ali Khan in Laal Kaptaan

Laal Kaptaan
U/A: Action, Drama
Director: Navdeep Singh
Cast: Saif Ali Khan, Manav Vij, Zoya Hussain
Rating: Rating

Frankly, there's far more to this film than for it to be looked at simply centred on its star (Saif Ali Khan), who's stunning, no doubt. Or the rating, that by virtue of it being vaguely indicative, becomes reductive, anyway.

What we effectively experience here is a valiant attempt at merging the East, with the Western. By which I mean not the West. But the Western as myth/genre that has its roots in Hollywood alone — with by and large no reference to reality, or history, whatsoever. Where a lone man on horseback rides into the only street of a village/hamlet of gun-slingers, sheriff, the works.

So does Saif on-screen (sort of). As a 'man with no name'. But in this case, not a cowboy, but supposedly a Naga Sadhu — belonging to no "jhund, akhara", or group — a 'Bhole ka sipahi/bhoot (Lord Shiva's soldier/ghost)', as it were. Although Naga Sadhus, to the best of my Kumbh Mela knowledge, are always butt-naked. It's the Aghori Babas, feeding on human flesh (belonging to no akhara either), who are partially clothed.

But ash-smeared, with long beard, and dirty dreadlocks, coming across initially as a bounty hunter in the Wild West, Saif's striking lead character displays the sort of ferociousness rarely witnessed in Hindi movies — perhaps since Lagaan's late Rajesh Vivek as a frighteningly bedraggled, rolling-eye villain Jogi Thakur, in Joshilaay (1989). Which was also a desi-Western.

So it's not like we haven't had Westerns in Bollywood. Sholay was one! That said, films of the genre inevitably revolve around revenge. Who is the Naga Sadhu in this film, exactly? We don't know. And that's not as important as who he's after — a local qiledar or in-charge of a royal fort (an equally menacing Manav Vij), who's already on the run.

Watch the trailer of Saif Ali Khan-starrer Laal Kaptaan here:

The film is set in Bundelkhand in the late 1700s, or 25 years after the Battle of Buxar, which my rudimentary understanding of history suggests was a battle between the British East India Company on one side, and the Nawabs of Bengal, Awadh, and a thoroughly diminished Mughals on the other.

The British won. But this land before us, like perhaps most of North India, remained lawless since no one held complete control. Or it was run on jungle law, as you observe a local mercenary (Deepak Dobriyal) literally doubling up as a sniffing dog in the ravines, guiding one merciless army against the other.

Navdeep Singh's (director of the super-sorted Manorama Six Feet Under, NH10) faux-natural lighting in the film, crumbling castles, and the general dust and chaos of armies moving like gypsies in caravans surrounded by human carcass is therefore the opposite of a Sanjay Leela Bhansali type, Indian period film — known for its rich colour, general opulence, and gorgeous architecture.

But where is all this leading to? Not that I must tell you more. Besides, that this is firstly not a linearly plotted film. In the sense that everything from the back-story of the characters, to the story itself, get revealed within a gap of several scenes. And hell, there are way too many scenes to the point that it begins to feel like a stretch, and you merely hope for the movie to get to the point.

Rather than getting deeper and deeper into a hole, down to even kitchen politics between such under-sketched and over-dramatic female characters (Zoya Hussain, Simone Singh). Sure, some of that depth comes from the over-layering in the script (historical background, etc). That, with much breathing air, and dramatic relief, might even make for a series. This movie will eventually drop on Amazon Prime. And one can't fault the flight of imagination. Whether or not you're awed by it (I was, for a good part; before it started spilling over).

But, hey, I walked into a crackling Western, about a 'man with no name'. Or so I thought. And I can see him. He looks it too. I can sense what he's after. It's quite simple. Always is. But I wait, and wait some more. Go back, forth. Reverse, and forward again — being wound up totally into a "story" being told. Eventually, I stop getting the 'feels'. Feel mangta hai, bro. Ab kya? What to do?

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  • 1/15

    As Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor celebrate their 7th wedding anniversary today - October 16, 2019, we bring you a recap of the couple's love story.

  • 2/15

    After 13 years of being married to first love Amrita Singh, and then dating Rosa Catalano for three years post his divorce, Saif and Kareena began seeing each other in 2007.

  • 3/15

    Before falling for Chhote Nawab, Bebo was in a steady relationship with Shahid Kapoor, from 2004 to 2007. It was during the filming of 'Jab We Met' that they parted ways. Ironically, the Imtiaz Ali film had them playing lovers, and went on to become a huge hit.

  • 4/15

    Stories of the Saif-Kareena linkup began while the two were shooting for Yashraj Films' 'Tashan' in Ladakh and Rajasthan. They worked together in 'Omkara' as well, but sparks flew on the sets of 'Tashan They were spotted outside a club in Bandra together back in 2007-2008 which sparked off rumours of an affair.

  • 5/15

    Although Saif Ali Khan received his share of criticism for leaving his kids (Sara Ali Khan, Ibrahim Ali Khan) and family, he maintained that he is genuinely in love with Kareena Kapoor.

  • 6/15

    On the other hand, Kareena Kapoor, who used to be quizzed by the media more than once about her relationship with Saif, always reiterated that destiny brought them together, and that, for her, Saif is the best.

  • 7/15

    Ever since they began dating, Saif and Kareena have made no pretensions about their relationship. The couple had walked hand-in-hand at the premiere of Ranbir Kapoor's debut film Saawariya.

  • 8/15

    Kareena Kapoor supported Saif Ali Khan wholeheartedly during the controversy at Taj Hotel, when a businessman alleged that the Nawab had punched him.

  • 9/15

    Though Saifeena became one of the most loved couples in B-town, they could never translate the same into on-screen success. The pair has acted in films like 'Tashan', 'Kurbaan' and 'Agent Vinod', all of which tanked at the box office.

  • 10/15

    Saif professed his undying love for Bebo by tattooing 'Kareena' (in Devnagri script) on his arm back in 2008.

  • 11/15

    After innumerable media speculations over the D-day, Saif's mother Sharmila Tagore revealed in July in 2012, that the much in love couple would get married in October. The couple tied the knot on October 16, 2012.

  • 12/15

    Saif and Kareena tied the knot in 2012, but unlike other Bollywood marriages, theirs was a private and secret affair attended by only close family and friends. Saif and Kareena have bonded really well with each other's families and have been each other's pillars of support during testing times.

  • 13/15

    The couple is often seen partying holidaying and together and give serious relationships goals to their fans. Kareena Kapoor has broken the stereotype of actresses not working post marriage. Kareena, in fact, worked in several films after her marriage, some of which went on to become blockbusters. Saif is a supporting partner and unlike most of the other celebs, who want to confine their spouses to the homes.

  • 14/15

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  • 15/15

    Here's wishing the lovely couple a lifetime of happiness!

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