Cast: Saif Ali Khan, Manav Vij, Zoya Hussain, Deepak Dobriyal, Simone Singh, Sonakshi Sinha
Director: Navdeep Singh
In your childhood, did you ever play dress-up? As in, bought, found or constructed a particular dress, ensemble, complete with make up, and walked around flaunting and loving the look.
If you did, you will recall how your walk changed. And how your personality dilated and transformed into that of a shimmering, snobbish diva or a cavalier combatant or a hectic superhero saving the world.
And you stayed in that character for as long as you could, despising and postponing the moment when you would have to take those clothes off, wipe off all remnants and mystique of that character, and descend from a gorgeous dream to step into mundane reality.
Most of us have done this at some point, but, thankfully, we neither had the idiocy, nor the gumption, and definitely no wherewithal to live the dream beyond the confines of our home.
Saif Ali Khan has all three. And he had a dress and a look that he so loved that he refused to take it off, forcing a group of indulgent producers to concoct a film around it.
He also has an agenda. After Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgn and John Abraham, he too wants to please the saffron Kaisers-i-Hind. So his film has enemies of the nation — mostly Muslims and gore log, but it also has a Hinduised, good Muslim. The happy intercourse of overt communalism and incendiary Hindutva.
Laal Kaptaan harks back to the time of Mughal rulers and moves to firangi times to show us the deceit and deshdroh of one community, and murderous fervour of the other.
It’s 1800s Buxar, Bundelkhand, etc, and moral turpitude abounds. Everyone is out to sell their soul and brethren for a few gold mohars. Only one man, cutting through this depravity and immorality with his spear and slashing sword, is out to restore goodness.
Wearing a red woollen jacket of the East India Company in North India’s kadakti garmi, Gosain (Saif Ali Khan), the Naga Sadhu, thankfully has his nether regions covered with a very tightly wrapped dhoti.
His heavily accessorised look — beads, rudraksh, chains, dreadlocks with the Shiva bun, a bandana, tilak, kholed eyes, a chillam and pointy jackboots — come together not to create a sense of menace, but confusion regarding his whereabouts and the severity of his battiness.
Gossain is in pursuit of one Rehmat Khan (Manav Vij) who, the film hints, may have done him some harm at some point in the past.
Laal Kaptaan conjures a very strange primitive world full of overdressed men and women who speak for a bit in some rustic dialect before resuming Bollywood Hindi.
The terrain and the horse-back stalking of prey by bounty hunters and miffed others across dusty, dry lands has the feel of a Spaghetti Western, while some characters — including our very laal kaptaan, a not-so-laal pari and the one who, along with his dogs, sniffs and picks up trails (Deepak Dobriyal) of wanted men for a price — feel like they are imports from the world Jack Sparrow commanded with his drunken swag and chutzpah.
Dramatic appearances are made by characters who amount to zilch, like one Noor Bai (Sonakshi Sinha). They are showpieces decorating this world.
Rehmat Khan, with one side of his face slashed from ear to lip, too appears whipping himself and talking of his gunah, but in the very next breath orders his right-hand man, Adam Khan (Amir Bashir), to massacre many innocents for no rhyme or reason.
As the film follows Gossain on his way to find and kill Rehmat Khan, there is a lot of barbaric slashing and killing without much explanation. There’s also a sultry lady with a hip haircut attired in what can only be described as Gurjari-meets-Rajasthali. She (Zoya Hussain) decides to attach herself to Gossain, till she finds what she’s really after.
Mughals, Marathas, Pinjars, Pathans, Dakus, Sadhus, Angrez — all make appearances, some chasing Gossain, some chasing Rehmat Khan, some chasing inaam — adding neither urgency nor meaning to the film’s silly story.
The film’s dialogues are truly terrible, and the writers try to inject some sense of foreboding and tumult by getting characters to chant “Alakh Niranjan”, or, simply, “Kaaaal, Kaaaal” (death).
Just to give you a sense of how bad the film’s dialogue are, here’s a sample: Rehmat Khan picks up his crying baby and says “Mera bachcha” while trying to calm him. When the baby continues crying, he first shouts and then again starts cooing, “Baba, Baba, Baba”. If the dialogue writers had added “Black Sheep, Have you any Wool”, the baby would have surely pointed at Laal Kaptaan and at least we would have had a hearty laugh instead of rolling our eyes at this inanity.
During the long course of the film there are several opportunities for Gossain to kill Rehmat Khan, but, like a true procrastinator, he keeps postponing it, elongating our suffering and the producers’ bills. Also, Gossain faints so often, that I was hoping someone would quickly check his BP on screen and give him a glucose biscuit.
After a very, very long time, when the film’s very convoluted story winds down to the climax to finally tell us what the whole issue with Gossain-Rehmat Khan is, it’s mildly interesting. But not enough for us to stop asking, “Why does this film exist? How could Navdeep Singh, the director of Manorama Six Feet Under and NH10, make such a lethargic, vague film?”
The only two departments in this entire enterprise that were full of beans and oh-so-excited were costume and make-up. Their work stands out and apart from the very apathetic efforts of others.
It seems that all big Bollywood male stars are so besotted with Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow, that we will be made to suffer dud films by them all. Aamir Khan’s done it already, and now Saif. I shudder to think who the next one will be.
Saif, actually, looks quite good and he rides horses very well. But there’s no threat or thrill in his acting or action.
Mrs Rehmat Khan, played by a forever-grumpy Simone Singh, is the film’s most annoyingly overacting character.
The lady who raided the Gujarat and Rajasthan emporiums is not bad but totally pointless to the film. Except that she may have handed Saif the hope of a sequel at the end.