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‘Thugs of Hindostan’ review: vapid, predictable and pointless

A still from ‘Thugs of Hindostan’

A still from ‘Thugs of Hindostan’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Ambitious in its visual scale, 'Thugs of Hindostan' reveals a disappointing lack of heft and flair when it comes to the story and its telling

Somewhere mid-way into Thugs of Hindostan (TOH)two friends, Firangi Mallah (Aamir Khan) and Sanichar (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub) are shown guzzling a bottle of Ye Olde Pirate whiskey. Nice nod to Pirates of the Caribbean (rumored to have been the film’s divine guiding force) I thought, till a 1800 date showed up on the label. Now isn’t TOH… set in 1795? How come this jump ahead to the future then?  

 

My unsubstantiated quibble is actually wasted when you look at the larger picture that the film presents--pretty but utterly vapid, predictable and pointless. Forget wafer thin, the plot here isn’t even a sliver. The element of deceit and treachery as against faith and trust--the leitmotif of the story, central to the action, the two lead characters as well as the British villains--could have lent itself to something intriguing and beguiling. But far from keeping one guessing, the tale of the two polar opposite thugs--Khudabaksh Jahaazi aka Azaad (Amitabh Bachchan) and Firangi Mallah--pitted against the East India Company, and also playing off against each other, is way too straightforward and simplistic. No twists and turns, no dramatic highs and lows, no emotional peaks and troughs. Nothing to keep you entertained, invested or engaged.

 

There is one exchange between Khudabaksh and Firangi, about farmers turning rebels, giving up the hal (plough) for hathyar (weapon), about sowing dreams of freedom in a fallow piece of land and about the intoxicating idea of independence. I thought it held the promise of some rousing old-fashioned dialogue-baazi of the films of yore, if not contemporary politics. But the scene pans out flat, neither underlined with any tension, frisson nor evoking any ideology. 

Thugs of Hindostan
  • Director: Vijay Krishna Acharya
  • Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Aamir Khan, Katrina Kaif, Fatima Sana Shaikh, Lloyd Owen, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, Ronit Roy
  • Storyline: In 1795 India, a band of thugs led by Khudabaksh Jahaazi aka Azaad poses a serious challenge to the expansion plans of the East India Company. Commander John Clive then enlists another thug, Firangi Mallah, to gain Khudabaksh’s trust only to cheat on him later
  • Run time: 164 minutes

In the name of fight for independence there is the same old talk of mehmaan (visitors, ie the British) turning into dushman (enemy), rooh ki ghulami (enslaved soul) as against jism ke azaadi (setting the body free) and one man’s baaghi (rebel) being other’s masiha (messiah). In the name of action there is some sword play, human bodies dangling on the rope captured in slo-mo, sea battles and sieges. Which is all fine but been there, seen that. It's not the kind to mesmerise and hold you in awe. There is an odd scene of a huge statue morphing into real human beings but even that doesn’t make one’s eyes go wide in wonderment.

 

The attention seems more focused on the mounting of the film--from the giant ships and Khan’s getup--than on the written word. There is enough ambition when it comes to the visual scale but hardly any flair in the story itself and its telling.Nothing seems to mesh together well. Even the music is a let-down save one recurring flute tune.  

 

Most actors, including the Big B, tend to fade away in the background to make way for Khan and Fatima Sana Shaikh as Zafira, a rebel whose family was betrayed by the Britishers. Khan’s over the top flamboyance, jocular ways and facetiousness might be in tune with the roguish opportunist he plays on screen, but he seems to oddly lack sway. Also, any resemblance to Jack “Johnny Depp” Sparrow is purely coincidental. The presence of Katrina Kaif, on the other hand, is purely incidental. All she has to do in her two-scene role is perform gangling exercise routines in the name of dance, with her pout and waist sporting an identity and life entirely their own. The one to get a deal as bad as Katrina is Ayyub. After showing immense talent and presence, even in the so-called supporting roles, Ayyub is slotted into the dangerous cubbyhole of being the hero’s sidekick. Someone pull him out of that.

 

Tame, dull and listless, the film lacks any distinct personality and attitude of its own. To hark back to the title of Vijay Krishna Acharya’s debut film, TOH could have done with some Tashan.

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Printable version | Mar 27, 2020 8:57:40 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/thugs-of-hindostan-review-vapid-predictable-and-pointless/article25444601.ece

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