By Shreehari H
Aamir Khan rides a donkey in Thugs of Hindostan. The year is 1795. The flag of the East India Company flutters high, and one small fiefdom after another has slowly been brought (and bought) under its subjugation through treachery and deceit. Khan’s Firangi Mallah, on the other hand, is a self-preserving rapscallion. He comes across as too pragmatic, too street-smart to directly get implicated in any of these skirmishes. Then again, this self-proclaimed hustler finds himself spouting lines like these: “One, two, dash it. Nonsense, quick march. Three, four, pudding-wudding. Good night.”
A Mr Perfectionist he may well be, but it quickly becomes evident that Khan has successfully made the transition from being a badass in Dangal to, well, just being an ass in Thugs of Hindostan.
The first time we see Amitabh Bachchan in Thugs, he emerges from behind a smokescreen. Khudabaksh, his character, is clearly meant to elicit awe, and the 76-year old actor plays this legendary sentry like only he can, all solemn-voiced and fiery-eyed. This is an imperious warrior who hauls a log of wood singlehandedly at one point—’boodah hoga terra baap‘ he seems to be saying—and he’s the one bearing the burden of this film as well.
Even Bachchan, however, isn’t entirely spared. Words like kaabiliyat, fidrat, riyaasat and takdeer are thrown about with abandon, even as the director makes him speak rhetorical gibberish like “What’s more intoxicating than freedom?,”since that’s obviously what a man with Azaad for a surname (and an omnipresent falcon for a sidekick, unfailingly reminiscent of Daenerys’ Drogon in Game of Thrones) would ask. At one point in the film, he hums and the background score repeats the very same tune each time with the loyalty of the Vodafone pug.
It’s to Bachchan’s credit that he manages to redeem himself to some extent even when surrounded by such mediocrity.
And that brings us to Katrina Kaif, who utters her dialogues as if reading from a teleprompter. An astrologer friend of Firangi’s is of the opinion that wood can be pernicious to his companion’s health, and when we see Kaif’s Suraiyya emerging from a stronghold to meet him, we silently, helplessly nod in the affirmative. Suraiyya is (thankfully) restricted to two or three scenes, and she gets to shake a leg while she’s at it. One of Thugs of Hindostan‘s item numbers, in fact, unfolds in the midst of a prospective execution, and a man who’s just about to watch his mentor get decapitated suddenly decides to break into a jig. Fatima Sana Shaikh, for her part, tries to channel Xena (of warrior princess fame) yet all we end up getting is Zafira, a clueless mannequin.
Any British presence in this film is strictly an evil and caricaturish one, and not exactly consistent either. The Englishmen here speak to each other only in Hindi for the entirety of the film’s first half (making for a Least Indian Company) and then suddenly revert to their mother tongue, as if they had a change of heart during the intermission. A few action set-pieces between them and the rebels are impressively mounted, no doubt, but the film fails to evince any interest because of how staggeringly silly it is. What we were promised is a lavish spectacle that pitted Bachchan and Khan against each other for the first ever time in a rousing, inspiring story of patriotism and valour. What we end up getting is a Tale of Two Grannies.
“Until we achieve our goal, our hearts won’t stop beating,” goes a lyric in one of the film’s many bland songs, and for Yash Raj Films, it is inevitable that the cash registers won’t stop ringing either.
Vijay Krishna Acharya can best be described as an apathetic director with a pathetic filmography, and this derivative film, ironically touted as one of the most expensive Bollywood productions of all time, is all at sea, reeking as it does of an almost primal mercenarism. Avast ye, landlubbers: don’t get hornswoggled. Beware the pirates of the Arabian.
Rating: 2 out of 5
Shreehari H is a lover of films and an even greater lover of writing.
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