"Laal Kaptaan"; Cast: Saif Ali Khan, Deepak Dobriyal, Manav Vij, Sonakshi Sinha; Direction: Navdeep Singh; Rating: * * (two stars)
"Laal Kaptaan" stumps you, not because it is yet another new-age Bollywood effort that tries being different and ends up a misadventure, but because you notice the director's name in the credits is Navdeep Singh. Isn't this the same man who made the absolutely thrilling "NH10" a while back, and the simply outstanding "Manorama Six Feet Under" before this?
Offbeat filmmakers losing the plot while trying to experiment with the mainstream idiom is not uncommon- especially when they work with stars (think Anurag Kashyap's "Bombay Velvet"). The thing about Navdeep Singh's "Laal Kaptaan" is while the film wholly misses out on the storytelling skill of his earlier finely-crafted efforts, it is also a no-go as an entertainer despite trying to blend the saleable formula of revenge with dark comedy and violence, and the lure of a commercial star.
While on the film's commercial star, Saif Ali Khan has misfired again, in his bid to score with something adifferent'. At least, his other recent efforts as "Kaalakaandi" and "Baazaar" looked sure of what they wanted to serve. The trouble with "Laal Kaptaan" is the film is caught in a maze of confusion, much like Saif Ali Khan's Naga sadhu look.
This is the story of a Naga sadhu named Gossain who dresses for showdown as if he had premonitions that Johnny Depp's "Pirates Of The Caribbean" flicks would strike the planet someday. He behaves as if he is way too spaced out, and he moves around with a strut straight out of Sergio Leone's westerns.
Perhaps that was the film's intention. Perhaps director Singh was out to craft a pop fusion of genres to set up a curry western adventure about a peculiarly Bollywoodised Jack Sparrow, set against a historical backdrop.
The attempt, however, is lost due to shoddy writing and execution. "Laal Kaptaan" starts going wrong early on, as a bloodsoaked drama of revenge kicks in.
Navedeep Singh and co-writer Deepak Venkateshaa¿s story is imagined in late 18th century Bundelkhand. The Buxar war has just ended, and in the wake of incidents emerges Gossain (Saif), a Naga sadhu who doubles as a bounty hunter.
Gossain's story is clear-cut vintage Bollywood. There is a villain, and the hero has motives for vengeance that are both societal and personal (the revelation of the latter forms a half-hearted twist in the climax, which arrives after a rather stretched-out runtime).
If Singh dressed up his protagonist as well as his milieu in an outlandish manner to hide the fact that he has very little story to tell, the ploy doesn't work. The film starts getting starts getting monotonous after a while.
Singh's last release "NH10" had disturbing tension and a smattering of graphic violence too, but it was done with authority and executed with precise intention in the plot. The world of aceLaal Kaptaan", with its marauding sadhu and sword-wielding men, naturally lends itself to action spectacle. However, there is no impact - simply because, despite spectacular cinematography (Shanker Raman), the swordplay-dominated action is too jaded. For an action drama, the way the stunts have been written into the screenplay look forced at times.
Weak writing has an adverse impact on storytelling too, as well as character development. None of the characters get ample space to be fleshed out credibly. Almost all characters, including Sonakshi Sinha in a nautch girl cameo, look like they are part of a gimmick parade.
While on Saif, "Laal Kaptaan" is a laudable experiment at image reinvention. He gives a charged performance as Gossain, but a badly-penned protagonist somehow makes his effort seem filmi at times.
If Saif Ali Khan has been looking for a career reboot lately, this is not the film. "Laal Kaptaan" is a film gone wrong.