Laal Kaptaan movie review: Saif Ali Khan, who spends most of his time togged out as Naga sadhu, is a sight.
Laal Kaptaan movie cast: Saif Ali Khan, Manav Vij, Deepak Dobriyal, Zoya Husain, Simone Singh
Laal Kaptaan movie director: Navdeep Singh
Laal Kaptaan movie rating: 1.5 stars
Laal Kaptaan, set in pre-Independence India, tracks a naga sadhu who is on a dangerous quest. We follow Gossain (Khan) as he makes his way through the hilly ravines of Bundelkhand, dotted with castles and caves and armed contingents of British, Mughal and Maratha soldiers, battling bandits-with-‘inaam’-on-their-heads, and being tasked by masked women with scarred cheeks-and-souls. It is all very picturesque, but it’s also quite pointless.
Navdeep Singh has never bettered his debut, Manorama Six Feet Under, a ‘desi’ edgy version of Chinatown. His NH10, despite the bumpy patches, called out patriarchy, while keeping us engrossed. But I’m not sure where he’s going with this: there are flashes when you feel the film will finally say something important, but then it lapses back into stodgy set-pieces which go on and on.
Saif Ali Khan, who spends most of his time togged out as naga sadhu, face streaked with white and black, long dreadlocks snaking down his back, wielding swords and scabbards, is a sight. So is Deepak Dobriyal, who plays a kind of jokey funster, and he has the best lines in the film, so does a little Maratha princeling who is the butt of many jokes. Manav Vij, who was so good in Andhadhun, comes off comparatively colourless. Hussain is striking as a kohl-eyed lower-caste dusky woman pitted against a fair, beautiful queen (Singh).
But the plot, such as there is, doesn’t hold, making the characters struggle for relevance. The last (and first) time Khan and Dobriyal split screen-time was in Omkara, and they played perfectly off each other. In Laal Kaptaan they are both men on the chase, and there’s a moment around a large bonfire where they break into a primal jig, that is visually stunning, and you feel that the tone and balance these two achieve in that sequence is where the film has its beating heart.
The rest is a long meander punctuated by the occasional dialogue about life and death, which is meant to be profound but ends up being banal.