They Call It Curry Western:
Rating: Two and a half stars:
Navdeep Singh attempts an ambitious film combining the style of the Hollywood western with an Indian period drama set in the eighteenth century, when the British East India Company was busy annexing Indian territories. The major event in Laal Kaptaan is the Battle of Buxar (1764—which the British forces won), from where the lead characters and their stories take off. If one were to describe the film, in a line, it would be as a cross between Thugs of Hindostan and Sonchiriya, picking the least effective aspects of each.
Saif Ali Khan plays a no-name Naga Sadhu, addressed as “Gosain”, dressed in a dhoti and the red jacket of the British army, kohl-ed eyes, long beard, hair in unruly dreadlocks, face smeared with ash, trying for the Captain Sparrow (Pirates of The Caribbean) look and not quite getting the quirkiness.
In arid Bundelkhand, he is a bounty hunter, who like the lone, taciturn cowboy of the Sergio Leone Western (the background music is inspired by Enio Moriccone too), kills wanted bandits and drags them behind his horse– not to the county sheriff, but to the village Thakur, who had better pay up or else!
All around him, the country is in turmoil, with Mughals, Marathas, Pathans, Pindaris, Rohillas fighting amongst themselves, or forming ineffectual alliances against the British. A Bundelkhandi commander Rehmat Khan (Manav Vij) kills his own people to steal a Maratha treasure, which he means to transport to Awadh. He sets out in a caravan with his men, his wife (Simone Singh) and infant son.
Meanwhile, a widow from the village (Zoya Hussain) attaches herself to Gosain with her own hidden agenda, as he goes after Rehmat Khan to extract revenge for something that is revealed right at the end of the film, by which time the audience is past caring, or has already guessed the connection.
Deepak Dobriyal plays a tracker for hire, who, like his two black dogs, can sniff out whoever he is hired to hunt, and lifts the film every time he appears with a cheery “howdy do.”
For a plot that is almost non-existent, Laal Kaptaan, takes much too long to get to the point, with pauses to philosophize pretentiously about death and the cycle of life.
A beefy Saif Ali Khan strains to carry the film, in which the character he plays seems dwarfed by the violence and historical chaos of the time, in which he (like, say, Mangal Pandey) has no part to play. Still, one cannot but appreciate the effort Navdeep Singh, his DOP (Shankar Raman), production, costume and make-up teams have put in to create something unusual in the mainstream space; even if the cowboy Western does not quite fit into the desi beehad (ravines).