On a rainy day, as a young boy is mercilessly being hung on a tree which already has many dead bodies on it, a voiceover booms, "Aadmi ke paida hote hi, Kaal apne bhiase pe baith ke chal padta hai. Usse vapas lewane, Aadmi ki zindagi utti, jitna samay uss bhaise ko laga us tak pahuchne mein."
Right from the first frame itself, Saif Ali Khan's 'Laal Kaptaan' warns us of the death that's lurking around in the film. However, when it finally claims its victim after a long pursuit, it simply doesn't shake you up anymore. Why? Because of its painfully slow narrative, which goes the zig-zag way.
Set in the late 1700s, a Naga Sadhu who is addressed as Gossain (Saif Ali Khan) surfaces after the Battle of Buxar. He is in hot pursuit of Rehmat Khan (Manav Vij), a Pathan warlord with whom he has some old scores to settle. Meanwhile, the latter has betrayed the Marathas and fled with their gold. Accompanying Khan is his Begum (Simone Singh) and a widowed concubine (Zoya Hussain) who has her own reasons to be with them.
As Gossain sets out on a chase sometimes on the horse; sometimes on foot through the land of Bundelkhand, some scenes hold your attention; some scenes don't. The wobbly writing is to be majorly blamed here. Navdeep Singh who previously helmed Anushka Sharma's 'NH10', is back with yet another revenge saga. Unfortunately, the wafer-thin plot spoils the game for us, this time.
The western influence is quite evident in Singh's story-telling and landscape. He throws a bunch of eccentric characters in Gossain's world to add layers to his revenge. As each is peeled off slowly, the journey turns out to be laborious for the audience as well. Finally, when the suspense is revealed in the end, it simply fails to create a jolting impact.
With his ash-smeared face, kohled-eyes and long locks, Saif Ali Khan aces it when it comes to his body language as a Naga Sadhu. Sadly, the man hardly gets any moment to shine because of the half-baked script.
Bringing in some comic relief in 'Laal Kaptaan' is Deepak Dobriyal. He plays a man who can sniff and track people with the help of his two dogs. At one point, you might wonder if he's the extension of the audience who too is busy trying to sniff some meat in the plot.
Manav Vij impresses in parts and pieces. The ladies in the film - Zoya Hussain and Simone Singh are feisty. Unfortunately, their voice is simply reduced to bare whispers in the male-dominated world of 'Laal Kaptaan'.
One of the reasons why 'Laal Kaptaan' still manages to grasp your attention despite the flaws, is Shanker Ramen's effective lens-magic, which beautifully captures the landscape of the story. The film could have been snipped shorter by several minutes to make it more compact. Benedict Taylor's background music goes well with the theme of the film.
At one point in the film, Saif's Gossain tells one of the characters in the film, "Ek bhale aadami ne mujhse kaha tha, ki maut ki taiyari paida hote hi shuru ho jaati hai." One wished the makers had paid heed to these words to avoid a similar fate for the film. I am going with 2 stars.