When the Mughals were on a decline and the British on rise, the power game was up in the air with everyone vying for it but one naga sadhu was marching to his own beats for revenge: that’s how director Navdeep Singh defines his latest, Laal Kaptaan.
Navdeep, who has helmed NH10 and Manorama Six Feet Under, calls Laal Kaptaan an Indian Western.
“‘Sholay’ was our greatest Western ever. But outside of that, we don’t have a celebrated history of that. I enjoy the ethos of a Western.
“A frontier land where anything can happen, people are scrambling for things. I kind of did it with ‘Manorama…’ as well. Frontier lands are exciting,” Navdeep told PTI.
The idea comes from a line he had read in a book as a kid, which stayed with him: ‘Till a few hundred years ago, a man with an ambition and brain could pick up a sword and carve out a kingdom for himself.’
“That time has gone. May be now you can create a start up company for yourself! But that sense of being able to do anything- I loved that,” he says. Navdeep extended that idea and set it in Bundelkhand in the period between the decline of the Mughals and the emergence of the British.
“It’s a period where the game is up in the air. The Marathas are vying for power, there are Jatts, Sikhs and the Afghans. The film is not about the historical events but a personal fictional story played out against this real historical backdrop.”
The germ of the story came to him when he was reading about Begum Samru, who took over the kingdom of her husband Walter Reinhardt Sombre, near Delhi.
The history book had a mention of Battle of Buxar, which cemented the role of the British in India.
“There I read about naga warriors who took part in the battle, fighting against the British. There was just two-three lines mentioned but I was fascinated. So I started researching on the nagas of that period.
“I read about it some 15 years ago and slowly I started to read more about it, the history of naga sadhus. They were a fascinating group in an exhilarating period, influential politically and militarily. It was an eye opener.”
What followed was combining an idea he and his co-writer Deepak Venkatesha already had and coming up with Laal Kaptaan in under a year.
“Deepak and I had discussed a story idea for a long time which was contemporary. We kept thinking where to set it, how to go about as it was a one line idea. Then we merged these two ideas into one. One was a bunch of characters and a backdrop and one was a plot idea.”
Saif plays a naga sadhu, a bounty hunter, who finds people who have rewards on their heads.
The director says his character is looking for a particular man for revenge for 20 years, which is why “he wanders the lands with blood on his mind. Bounty hunter is his side sustenance.”
In the film, also featuring Deepak Dobriyal, Zoya Hussain, most of the characters are nameless.
“We call Saif’s character ‘The Hunter’, Deepak’s called ‘The Tracker’, Zoya is called ‘The Widow.’ There are no names to characters in the film.
“In the first draft of the film, the title was ‘The Hunter, The Widow and The Hanging Tree’ which sounds like a Western but obviously there was no Hindi translation so it became ‘Laal Kaptaan’.”
The title comes from the a British East India Army Company jacket Saif’s naga warrior wears in the film.
“There’s a bit of a story on how he acquires it. Since it defines his character and the way he looks, we thought it could be the kind of thing people call him- ‘Laal Kaptaan’. We want people to find out who this man is and what he has on his mind,” he adds.
Laal Kaptaan is scheduled to release on October 18.