Since last year, Bollywood has seen a rise in period films based in the pre-Independence era. Not just films based on real-life characters like MANIKARNIKA – THE QUEEN OF JHANSI, KESARI or SYE RAA NARASIMHA REDDY, but even fictional sagas like THUGS OF HINDOSTAN, TUMMBAD or the upcoming SHAMSHERA are also being made. Saif Ali Khan’s latest outing, LAAL KAPTAAN, belongs to the latter category and attempts to tell a revenge drama. So does LAAL KAPTAAN succeed in entertaining despite the niche appeal? Or does it fail to impress? Let’s analyse.
LAAL KAPTAAN is the story of revenge spanning a couple of decades. The year is 1789, 25 years after Battle of Buxar. Hunter (Saif Ali Khan) is a Naga Sadhu who’s looking for a man called Rehmat Khan (Manav Vij). Through Noor Bibi (Sonakshi Sinha), Hunter finds out that Rehmat is a governor of a kingdom somewhere in North India. At this time, the evil Rehmat takes away all the treasure of his kingdom and kills his servants. Along with his army, his confidant Aadham Khan (Aamir Bashir), his wife (Simone Singh), wet nurse (Eshika De) and his newborn son, he abandons the fort and is on a way to the banks of the river Yamuna. By the time Hunter reaches the fort, there’s no one except a widow (Zoya Hussain). Hunter gets injured while fighting some Pathans on the way and the widow takes care of him and treats his wounds. In return, she requests him to take her with him. Hunter refuses and yet, she follows him. After Hunter and the widow leave, a tracker (Deepak Dobriyal) who’s an expert in finding out whereabouts with the help of his smelling power and pet dogs, reaches the fort. In some time, the Marathas attack the fort and the tracker agrees to help them find Rehmat. Rehmat was to give a portion of the treasure to the Marathas but since he didn’t, they are trying to find him. Meanwhile, a few days later, the Hunter reaches the place where Rehmat and his army have camped for the night. Hunter quietly enters Rehmat’s tent but he doesn’t kill him, which has always been his sole aim since 25 years. Rehmat’s army nabs Hunter but Rehmat doesn’t want him eliminated. He wants to know who exactly is Hunter and why he wants to kill him. Rehmat is also reminded that six years ago, he had crossed paths with Hunter and the latter had told him that he’ll finish him. Even then, Hunter had spared him. What happens next forms the rest of the film.
Deepak Venkatesha and Navdeep Singh's story is very poor and gives a déjà vu of certain period films of Bollywood and also Hollywood. Deepak Venkatesha and Navdeep Singh's screenplay is confusing and ineffective. The film has too many tracks and except Hunter’s track, none of them are interesting. Also, the transition between tracks is not smooth. There’s a twist in the tale revealed in the pre climax but it arrives at a time when viewers are tired with the goings on and just want the film to end. Sudip Sharma's dialogues are nothing special and quite pretentious. The philosophical one-liners fail to entice. Also, various dialects and even Marathi is used and it’ll be difficult to decipher some of the lines in the absence of subtitles.
Navdeep Singh's direction is highly disappointing. He had very weak material in his hand and moreover, he further spoils the show with his execution. The film is extremely dry and slow and very few scenes arrest your attention. There’s also an attempt to add humour with the character of the tracker and by showing Pindaris, allied with the Maratha army, as buffoons. But it just doesn’t impress. Even the revenge bit looks silly as Hunter crosses paths with Rehmat Khan twice and yet doesn’t kill him.
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LAAL KAPTAAN has an intriguing beginning showing the flashback portion. Hunter’s entry is heroic but soon the film falls flat and it remains that way till the end, save for a few minutes in between. The film is too long at 155 minutes and moves at a snail’s pace. The story moreover is very random and also quite confusing. Hence, it becomes difficult for audiences to keep their interest. Also, it is bewildering that Hunter is desperate to find Rehmat Khan since 25 years. And when he finally meets him, he never kills him. Audiences would never be able to understand this factor. In the end, the reason is revealed but it’s very unconvincing and silly.
Talking of performances, Saif Ali Khan genuinely puts up a good show. His look is quite dashing and he excels in action scenes. Manav Vij too does very well, as the baddie. His intense eyes work very well for such roles. Deepak Dobriyal is mildly amusing but in most scenes, his act doesn’t raise laughs. Zoya Hussain puts up a confident show. Simone Singh is decent. Aamir Bashir and Eshika De are passable. Neeraj Kabi (Sadullah Khan) gives a nice performance in a cameo and same goes for Chetan Hansraj (Sangram Singh) and Ajay Paul (Thakur). Vibha Rani (Laal Pari) is quite scary as clairvoyant but the director misses the bus here as he could have done a lot with this character. Madan Deodhar (Maratha captain) is appropriate and he’s the only one who manages some laughs. Henry Douthwaite (British officer Theodore Munro) has nothing much to do. Sonakshi Sinha is wasted and is there for just one scene.
Samira Koppikar's music is nothing great and songs are badly used. 'Taandav' sounds exhilarating but comes at a very confusing point in the movie. 'Red Red Najariya' could have made for a great item song but is played just for a few seconds and hence, wasted. 'Kaal Kaal' and 'Lahu ka Rang Kara' don’t make the desired impact. Benedict Taylor and Naren Chandavarkar's background score is in sync with the film’s mood.
Shanker Raman's cinematography is spectacular and the film is shot in some virgin locales. Rakesh Yadav's production design is authentic. Darshan Yewalekar's hair design and Dhananjay Prajapati's makeup is spot on, especially in case of Saif. Maxima Basu Golani's costumes too are straight out of the 18th century India. Illusion Ethereal's VFX is fine but could have been better in some scenes. Jabeen Merchant's editing is haphazard in several scenes.
On the whole, LAAL KAPTAAN is bizarre and a poor film that has nothing substantial to offer the audiences in general. At the box office, the negligible buzz along with its release in the dull pre-Diwali period will spell doom for the film.