Thugs of Hindostan has been receiving bad reviews ever since it released this weekend.
But that shouldn't mean that you give this movie a miss — though it does require the investment of two hour and 44 minutes of your time — especially if you’re the sort who enjoys standard Bollywood fare that harks back to the ‘70s and ‘80s. For that’s what this big budget Amitabh Bachchan – Aamir Khan starrer reminds one of.
So what happens in Thugs of Hindostan?
Khudabaksh Jahazi (Amitabh Bachchan) leads a small indomitable army of rebels that is dead-set on undermining British rule in India and attaining freedom. Joining him is Zafira (Fatima Sana Sheikh) whose landowner family was killed many years ago by Clive, a British general and the villain in our story. Firangi (Aamir Khan) is a scoundrel who spies for the British, delivering small-time criminals to them. He is entrusted with his first ‘big’ job: that of delivering Khudabaksh Jahazi, better known as ‘Azaad’.
Following some witty repartee and a sword fight on the sea, Firangi manages to befriend Azaad and be allowed into his army. He converses about freedom and righteousness with Azaad and breaks into an ebullient ‘Vashmallay’ dance with him and for a moment there you wonder if Firangi has had a change of heart. But has he? That’s the question which takes the rest of the movie through multiple twists, with Firangi changing colour faster than a chameleon as he switches from hero to villain and back again. Fortunately for Thugs, Firangi’s mercurial nature is played out impeccably by Aamir Khan. A lesser actor could have easily made a boring mess out of it but Aamir entertains.
Adding to the story are multiple VFX-enhanced action sequences where again and again and again the swashbuckling heroes swing into ships, play with fire and draw swords and bow and arrows against the enemy.
Be prepared to experience deja vu when you feel that you may have seen that action sequence or heard that music somewhere else before. Thugs is heavily ‘inspired’, replete with clichés, hardly cerebral.
How did the actors fare?
Fatima Sana Sheikh, who proved her acting mettle with Dangal, makes the most of a part where she predominantly narrows her eyes and seeks revenge from the villain. A lissome Katrina Kaif happily slips into item girl mode but alas, the songs were apparently choreographed by Prabhu Deva. Katrina’s moves are less sensual, more acrobatic and she makes things more implausible when she continues to gyrate during a sad song about a child’s ‘Baba’.
As the warrior Khudabaksh Jahazi valiantly seeking freedom, Amitabh Bachchan speaks about righteousness and defeating evil in that all too familiar gravelly voice, his eyes bloodshot, laden with heavy duty armor. His followers are convinced – the audience is too, until he keeps repeating it one time too many.
Aamir Khan, meanwhile, is the double-crossing Machiavellian Firangi. He is a liar, a swindler, unapologetically treacherous and while you know instinctively that he will ultimately be drawn to the righteous path of freedom fighting, the actor is convincing enough to make you want to watch his transition. He quips and he teases, makes lewd jokes, dances and switches loyalties within the blink of an eye. And he does it in a way that is entertaining, carrying a movie that is otherwise weighed down by predictability.
I wish, though, that Aamir’s Firangi wasn’t quite so obviously a caricature of Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow character from the multi-blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean series. Firangi’s swagger, kohl lined eyes and generally undependable nature is very reminiscent of Jack Sparrow and even though Aamir does a good job, it makes the movie feel stale.
Then again, the plot itself is stale – and proud of it too. The filmmakers may have invested quite a bit into special effects but writing an all-new plot obviously wasn’t a priority and they’re quite satisfied with narrating a story that has been told many times before, where enslaved Indians rally against a tyrannical British ruling class.
Is it the script that ultimately disappointed?
Had Thugs been less blatant about having borrowed from Hollywood’s pirate movies, perhaps it could have had a fresher appeal and come off as less formulaic. After all, one expects more than mere formula from a movie starring Amitabh Bachchan and Aamir Khan. This is the main reason why it doesn’t impress – far too many expectations are attached to it and it doesn’t manage to rise up to them.
But setting aside expectations, this is just an all-out mindless Bollywood entertainer, ladling out masala and action. The computer-generated eagle circling Amitabh wherever he goes may remind you of his ‘Allah rakha’ from the movie Coolie. The villains grinning over a lascivious Katrina will remind you of old Amrish Puri movies. Ila Arun’s witch doctor guise will remind you of umpteen Hollywood movies. Everything will, of course, remind you of the Pirates of the Caribbean.
Like I said, audiences who loved Bollywood back in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s will enjoy this movie. It’s not a cerebral, thought-provoking movie. It’s not the best Bollywood movie ever made. It’s certainly not going to make it to Aamir or Amitabh’s best movies ever list. But it’s not quite so torturous.