Evoking a nihilistic view of the world where human lives are inconsequential and an individual’s actions’ meaningless, ‘Laal Kaptaan’ is layered with a meditative stance on the endless and forever moving cycle of time. Depicting a detailed revenge saga to convey the futility of revenge in an essential age old philosophy of the cyclical nature of the universe.
“Aadmi ke paida hote hi kaal apne bhaise pe baithke chal padta hai usse vapis lewane ... aadmi ki zindagi utni jitna samay us bhaise ko laga us tak pahunchne mein”
It is an exhilarating experience ‘chiefly because it’s rare . It’s unique because its a desi spin on a western telling of a period drama. However what makes it immersive is its authenticity and heft. In contrast to Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s rendition of a period which primarily focuses on the magnificence and the magnanimity of an era, this is essentially a rather gritty take on the period format driven with and evoking the ethos of the erstwhile Indian subcontinent’s philosophical musings. Filled with jaw dropping imagery and breath stopping visuals, it never simply revels in its own grandness but rather focuses on making a philosophical point of view about life and death, purpose and karma, actions and its consequences.
Set up against the backdrop of 18th century india when the British East India company was slowly spreading its tentacles via any means possible, drawing a wedge with the various dynasties of the time, it chronicles the tale of a Naga sadhu on a killing spree. Amidst the wilderness of the arid ‘bhagwa’ landscapes we are introduced to a bounty killer who has been on a look-out for a target to settle old scores. His relentless pursuit for almost 20 years conveys that the past weighs heavy on him and we see that unfold during its 155 minutes run-time. Slow-paced and trippy, it allows a gradual build of its narrative and characters. The historical detailing gives it credibility and the story lends itself to this period of avenging kings and gory family betrayals. Each character has been given a unique look and little details are added to flesh out the characters further. So the sadhu has a red British military style coat to underline the nature of his past. Red being a symbol of revenge indicates his goal. A mysterious woman clad in earthy linen saris has cropped hair and it gives us a moment to ponder. A witch and a fortune teller literally has a black tongue. Also there is madman dressed in funky shoes and has a skill with scents and smell. So there are minute ways in which the story attracts our attention to keep us engaged.
A lot of emotions and feeling are conveyed through eyes. Most of the time we get a close up of the characters eyes to convey their feelings and intentions. This creates a strong paradox amidst vast expansive landscapes.
The story is layered with a lot of information being revealed to us in flashbacks demanding the audience to get engaged in the characters by constantly guessing what and how did things happened in the past. Meanwhile also setting up side stories and planting little puzzles in there so that we remain invested in the world while the larger story unfolds. It also gives us time to formulate our own theories so that we partake in the protagonists long winding revenge journey. The story has a certain pace which gives us time to reflect upon the happenings instead of just acting like a traditional fast paced thriller. It is directed masterfully with an assuredness which is commendable.
The story and the visuals gives us a glimpse of the era gone by. The camera instead of being an intruder is a mere observer of this unfolding of a revenge saga. It transports us to the 18th century India giving us an authentic picture of what and how it looked and behaved back then. Although already with an ambitious story but the mood of the film is elevated further with stupendous performances. The visuals are jaw dropping due to the neatness of the backdrop and its carefully crafted setting.The constant back and forth jump in time drives the point of the persistency of the sadhu’s purpose and frequent flashes of his sinister past drives him even more fervently towards his single minded goal.
The movie is very intricate in terms of visuals as well as characters. We get a set of colourful characters with their own idiosyncrasies. I found myself constantly paying attention to the sheer jaw dropping visuals at display. The costumes look authentic and true to the times it is set in, contamperous with the fashion and the ways of the times. The colour palette is so rich and contrasting at times. So the day shots are well lit with vast colour laden landscapes while the night scenes has a green sepia tint to it. I found myself distracted with some of the choppy green screen imposed during the night scenes though.
There are a lot of dead bodies scattered around to bring about the fraility of human body. The violence though gritty is never glorified. The camera is an observer of this period. It doesnt participate or judge but simple witnesses the drama happening on this arid bhagwa landscape. The action looks raw and well done.
The background score is mostly lends itself to the story and uplifting the mood of the scene. It also at places elevate the tension and the drama. Overall it a good score and doesn’t interfere with the experience of watching it.
The opening dialogue gives the crux of the story is. It talks about cycles - of life and death, of new and old, of age and birth. Bringing forth a philosophy of life chakra which constantly keeps on turning irrespective of its little inhabitants. While sounding sinister yet conveying a deeply philosophical idea about the human condition.
I like how ‘Navdeep’s films are around ‘betrayals and revenge. It's also very restrained like he believes in the world and the characters are merely its pawns so the film is always larger and the camera always an observer.
the whole point of making us a party into this story was to tell us the futility of it all. as the cycle of times goes it will keep on repeating so do we as audience are okay to take on the revenges. While the avenging sadhu is portrayed dancing in its own dance of revenge but he is never glorified. He is ugly and sinister and with a single minded goal to kill but do we as people observing this learn anything out of this?
Its an ambitious film matched with requisite skill. Instead of being hollowed out with its beauty its given depth. The film comes alive due to conviction it has in its material. Helmed by some very passionate individuals it gives me hope that we shall be able to see our own individualistic indian stories told with similar skill and panache in future