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The Saif Ali Khan-led period saga ‘Laal Kaptaan’ keeps harping on about death being the ubiquitous leveller and how it’s a reality that can’t be evaded.

While it’s a grim prospect, the sobering death knell was sitting through this bloated revenge drama that picks up pace sporadically. Even if the title character’s sagacious pronouncements don’t kill you, the movie is dangerously close to us turning us murderous with frustration.

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Set in 18th century India, on the brink of anarchy and lawlessness, a dreadlocks-heavy Khan plays Gossain, a sagacious bounty hunter who takes pride in his ascetic and spartan existence. He’s a naga sadhu — an ascetic who follows Indian deity Shiva — who has gone rogue. His ritualistic killing, which includes smearing ashes from the campfire all over his face, and his feral snarls that light up his kohl-lined eyes indicate a disturbed man. While his macabre turn is enchanting in the beginning, it loses its appeal soon.

He’s on the prowl to obliterate Rehmat Khan (Manav Vij), a morally bankrupt royal. Why does Gossain thirst for his blood? The answers arrive eventually, but it’s too late to satiate a fidgety viewer.

However, it’s not for want of trying. Khan, who may remind you of ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’s cult hero Jack Sparrow, gives it his all. He injects charisma, quirkiness and bestial magnetism into his foreboding role, but he’s let down by a meandering script. Perhaps, it was meant to be Bollywood’s answer to a swashbuckling Western adventure, but all that was lost in translation.

While the cinematography that captured the arid, dusty desert landscapes of Rajasthan is compelling, a beautiful canvas cannot make up for a weak story. You can smell the patricide twists long before it plays out.

As far as performances go, Khan did some heavy lifting and he was ably supported by consummate actors such as Deepak Dobriyal — the comic sidekick with enhanced smelling powers — and Vij.

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Zoya Hussain is suitably intriguing and seductive in her role as a woman with surprising grit. Simone Singh isn’t shabby in her role as a fiercely selfish queen. But the collective good performances could not save this gory misadventure.

‘Laal Kaptaan’ seems to be one of those films that may have sounded brilliant and romantic on paper, but couldn’t translate well on the big screen.

While Khan’s grim profound pronouncements on life and death may keep you alive, there’s a good chance that this film will snuff the desire in you to watch it till the very end.

‘Laal Kaptaan’ is strictly for Khan’s fans who dig his cerebral conversations in person and therefore will be easy on him.

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Film: Laal Kaptaan

Director: Navdeep Singh

Cast: Saif Ali Khan, Deepak Dobriyal, Manav Vij and Zoya Hussain

Stars: 2 out of 5