Aamir and Amitabh, lost at sea in this giant Yash Raj period epic
It takes a lot to make pirates boring. Without a doubt, Thugs Of Hindostan is a whole lot of movie — the biggest-budget Yash Raj production of all time, the first film to star both Amitabh Bachchan and Aamir Khan — and yet this giant period epic turns out to be a forgettable dud. Directed by Dhoom 3’s Vijay Krishna Acharya, this unoriginal film can only inspire the shrugs of Hindustan.
This is Pirates Of The Caribbean without pirate or Caribbean, a knockoff to suit prejudiced audiences like cricketer Virat Kohli who prefer to exclusively admire the locally made. In this 1810-set adventure, Aamir Khan borrows the Jack Sparrow eyeliner, while Amitabh Bachchan is literally given the bird, his entrances on screen preceded by a noisy hawk. Bachchan plays a rebel, a freedom fighter rallying troops against the colonisers, while Khan is a two-faced rogue on the Company payroll sent to infiltrate Bachchan’s squad and bring him down.
The plot is painfully childish and this film, alongside Ashutosh Gowarikar’s Mohenjo Daro, makes an alarmingly strong case to leave historical hysterics to Sanjay Leela Bhansali, who understands scale and pageantry. Acharya shoots far too much action in slow-motion, from swordsmen swinging between conveniently placed vines to collapsing mothers, amping up the frames per second to disguise the lack of storytelling craft. Khan told the press he wants people to forget Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow after seeing his character, Firangi. He may have taken his own advice and forgotten Depp’s audacious originality. Firangi is a most unremarkable character, free of charisma or cleverness, with barely a line worth remembering.
The film sinks because it prioritises size over script. And the size is unimpressive as well, with cardboard-y visual effects, poor rope-physics and haphazard continuity. But all that could be forgiven — $41 million wouldn’t go far in Hollywood — if we had characters worth caring about or laughing with. Setpieces matter, but adventure films become special when we quote the lines and cheer the heroes. Instead, we have Khan-in-kajal, and a gruff and grizzly Bachchan weighted down by armour and cliché, crying himself hoarse about azaadi. The girls have it worse. Fatima Sana Shaikh, who was so good in Dangal, plays a princess who doesn’t have a line for the first hour, but is a fierce combatant — just not fierce enough. She’s a warrior who repeatedly needs rescue, but hey, she makes excellent sandcastles. When Sheikh does speak, she does it flatly enough to justify her lack of lines. Also, an upsidedown stick figure is tattooed on her chin, like someone played Hangman on her face while she was sleeping.
Katrina Kaif slaps Khan around and seems in charge of their dynamic, but from time to time, looks suddenly and improbably aroused, like Khan’d been momentarily swapped out for a bottle of mango juice. She shakes her impressive abs with gusto, but for odd songs. At one point Sheikh, without warning, breaks into a mournful ‘Baba, Ba-ba’ song, to which Kaif reacts by pirouetting aggressively in sequinned silver shorts, as if channelling a black sheep. The spectre of old Bollywood looms large. An old man sings about imli, Ila Arun plays a medicine woman, and then — by the beloved beard of Bob Christo — the redcoats ham it up. The British villain is given the historically despised name Clive, and he speaks to a fellow Englishman in Hindi, even when the two are alone and he’s saying he’ll never understand Indians.
I may be old school, but I believe pirate movies need to have eye-patches. This one doesn’t, and that’s a shame. The viewing experience would have been hugely improved. I should have gone in wearing two.
■ Directed by Dhoom 3’s director, this unoriginal film can only inspire the shrugs of Hindustan