It begins with, and is set around and after the Battle of Buxar. The famous battle fought in 1764, which like many battles in that period the British East-India Company won on count of treachery of those on the other side. From that moment begins an arc riding on intrigue and some action-fuelled drama.
The director Navdeep Singh, however, spares us a lesson/sermon in history. Who is fighting whom is dealt with broad brushstrokes and it makes complete sense only close to the end. What is more than clear, however, is that this is a revenge saga. Gossain, a word we later learn is for a man who comes back from the dead, is in search of one Rehmat Khan, who by the way has not even an ounce of rehmat in his blood. He is every inch a diabolic character and this is established early on as well as cemented all through.
But before anyone shouts Islamophobia, well, there are enough twists in store to dispel any such notion. The identity of Gossain itself is packed with many a surprise. Who is he, why does he want Rehmat with such maddening obsessiveness arouses as much curiosity as another query? Why does he let his target go scot free on two occasions? The climax may justify his behaviour. But when you are watching the drama swathed in shades of barbarism and blood, you do get both irritated and frustrated by the turn of events.
No doubt the turns here are several, unpredictable too. No character is what it seems. Only Rehmat is what he is; outright sinister. Manav Vij plays the antagonist with reasonable restraint but his portrayal of vileness needed some work. Zoya Husain (seen as lead in Mukkabaaz) once again plays the spunky woman. Here, she is out to seduce Gossain. But her character has far more to it than just being a seductress. Saif Ali Khan in the titular part gets his pound of flesh literally and many more of action scenes. Impassively impressive, as much as a not-so- taut script would allow him, the film revolves around him and his unusual countenance of a Naga sadhu smeared in ash. He briefs us on the kaal chakara; how Yama comes calling on bhainsa and we live as long as he doesn’t catch up with us. However, the wisdom he offers despite his earnest tone is neither profound nor impactful. Deepak Dobriyal too gets his share of some pithy one-liners. “Tum apne shikar ke gulam ho,” he tells Gossain. But none of it adds to anything substantial.
More often you feel the director is trying to sell you an average badle ki gaatha in the garb of something far more symbolic and intelligent. Period setting and some details like mention of Pindaris and Saif’s makeover might lend authenticity to this fictional tale of late 1700s. Nevertheless, stretched at 155 minutes, it’s not just Saif’s character, who carries the burden of the past, you too feel bogged down. So what could have been ground-breaking ends up as just another average period drama. Laal Kaptaan may not exactly be lame but nor is it fiery enough to ignite your mind or senses. Not red hot for sure.
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