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Thugs of Hindostan Review: A rebelliously slow film that remains stranded on the shore

'1795. Hindostan.' The Mirza of Rounakpur is undeterred by an impending British threat, smiling by the side of his daughter as she builds a sand castle. The princess, the king discovers, has a real knack for detail — she painstakingly extracts ‘three’ sand teeth from the mouth of her own figurine (which stands atop the castle), since that’s how many she has lost this Dussehra. The siege happens, and a despicable British lord with orange sideburns enters the royal fort, offering friendship at first then showing his true colours. Orange, mostly. Suddenly, we hear hooves, and Amitabh Bachchan gallops in on horseback, looking so uncomfortable in his headgear and armour as to recall the horrors of Eklavya. As this heroic royal guard dusts off into the sunset with the rescued princess, the majestic sand castle — which for a moment stood for artfulness and attention to detail — comes crumbling down at once, sacrificed symbolically at the foot of yet another epic YRF plunder.

Cast: Aamir Khan, Amitabh Bachchan, Fatima Sana Shaikh, Katrina Kaif
Director: Vijay Krishna Acharya

Thugs of Hindostan, directed by Vijay Krishna Acharya, runs for 164 minutes but trudges on longer than the British rule in India, with a soundtrack so loud and noisy it’s a minor miracle they allowed it for a Diwali release. It stars two of the biggest megastars of Bollywood — Amitabh Bachchan and Aamir Khan — who make for such an unconvincing and uninspiring duo that it becomes instantly clear why no director has ever dared the feat before. Besides many an imposing ship, the film also features Fatima Sana Shaikh as a bird-eyed archer who apologises for being ‘hard-mouthed’; Katrina Kaif as a wind-up 19th century dancer who miraculously knows how to ‘twist’; and eternal sidekick Zeeshan Ayyub as a Brahmin drunkard. The plot — about a rebellious Thuggee cult that stands up to the Empire but suffers indecision over a new recruit — is so full of clichés and a wannabe pirate-movie air that it hurts to remember that Aamir will be unleashing this film on the Chinese, a civilization with an actual history of pirates.

Aamir appears as Firangi Mallah, a donkey-riding rogue who is tasked to infiltrate the ‘Azaad’ cult but constantly keeps changing sides — offering little or no remorse while doing so, merrily ducking his head and smiling like a greedy meerkat. The role is a fiendish fit for the actor, a box-office whiz and cinematic burglar considered by some to be a genius. Amitabh, for his part, is reduced to an armoured trunk of stiffness, and is expected to keep a straight face all through, even when mouthing lines like, "Kambakkt...waqt bohut kam hain." His character, Khudabaksh Jahaazi (yup, they pun on it too), is one of the most unexciting ganglords ever written and played by anyone. And Amitabh himself has played Babban Singh.

The production value holds up though. The VFX is surprisingly tolerable (the trailer's terribly tacky opening shot has been mindfully trimmed), and the ships look sturdy and believable, even though the shallow water tanks of Malta — on which these giant boats have been filmed – betray the grey-green menace of seawater. The fortresses look grand and sprawling, but beyond that there’s hardly any visual splendour to inspire awe or even justify the budget.

The first Pirates of the Caribbean film was inspired by a Disneyland ride, and while the blockbuster American franchise has since set sail for stranger, stronger tides, its juvenile Indian counterpart refuses to let go of the safety rails. Thugs of Hindostan is too childish to be a gripping historical epic, and too mechanical and supervised to offer any real thrill. Tragically, this is a film that will bore the children most, much like a bummer of a roller coaster that takes forever to start and then goes around for one innocuous little loop. Aamir Khan and Vijay Krishna Acharya may stack up enough candy floss to distract the kids, but their amusement park is too dull to hold or engage a crowd. The kids want their money back. There’s ever only one Jack Sparrow.


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