Director: Vijay Krishna Acharya
Cast: Aamir Khan, Amitabh Bachchan, Katrina Kaif, Fatima Sana Sheikh, Llyod Owen, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, Ronit Roy
There is an obligatory prerequisite for all commercial films, especially the big-budget, star-spangled ones: Thou shall not bore. And yet, the opposite happens often enough.
When the biggies of Bollywood decide and then set out to conquer the box-office as an end in itself, they first take leave of their senses. Then, after sending the pesky writers on long leave, they proceed to throw cash at the the art director, the CGI team, the costume wallas, the extras, the star’s hair stylist, colourist, the carpenters… anything and everything except the story, the dialogue, the writing.
Everything must look slick-and-span at a massive, impressive scale even if the film’s innards are rotting and hollow.
Thugs of Hindostan, written (??!) and directed by Vijay Krishna Acharya, is one such enterprise where everything, from the release date to the single-minded focus of the enterprise, is on making pots and pots of money. And it is BIG!
It has Big B. It has the reigning king of box-office, Aamir Khan. It also has a taut-tummy, botox-lipped Katrina Kaif. And it has copied many of its things and characters from Hollywood biggies – a little from Game of Thrones, and lots and lots from Pirates of the Carribean. Joining this mess together are standard Bollywood cliches involving bad foreigners and good-hearted desis. And together they throw a mean challenge at the audience. Thugs of Hindostan, from Yash Raj Films, challenges you stay awake even as it goes from dreary to dismal to downright dud.
I failed this challenge repeatedly. I must have dozed of at least five times in this unending sorry saga set in a land of aazadi-wanting Indians, and the mendacious goras of the East India Company.
The film’s story, which begins in 1795, is almost idiotic in its entirety.
In Raunakpur, a decent, turbaned king is trying to keep his kingdom safe from East India Company’s kleptomaniacs, specifically John Clive (Llyod Owen). But almost immediately there is dhoka and the honourable king, his honourable son and wife and soldiers are killed. Just then, as Clive casts his evil eye on little Zafira, in rides Khudabaksh Azaad (Amitabh Bachchan), on a stallion and with an eagle hovering above.
The drama of this scene — as the little one runs to ride pillion with Khudabaksh Azaad — made me break into a smile, but it was too brief, too fleeting.
Fast forward to 11 years, when one donkey-riding Firangi Mallah (Aamir Khan) is busy conning his way into the services of the East India Company who are after thugs.
The film gives the character of Firangi Mallah a lot – tassels and danglers, a nose pin and kajal, some funny lines and lots of screen love. And Mr Khan returns the favour often. He turns up the masti quotient by talking fast and silly, making his eyes dance along with his curls, but there’s little else besides that. It’s a character who lights up the screen for a bit, making no connect because it has no depth.
Soon enough arrives the first item number involving one of Ms Kaif’s slender legs, her concave stomach and burgeoning lips, all of them dancing to their own tune. This song-and-dance sequence is kicked off by a slap she delivers to Firangi Mallah. It was somewhere during her very odd gyrations that I dozed off first, only to wake up to find Firangi Mallah professing allegiance to Khudabaksh Azaad and his beti-like protégée, Zafira (Fatima Sana Sheikh).
There is a lot of teer-andazi, jumping about from land and sea, ships at war, gora bosses looking displeased and throwing barood-ke-gole at enemy forces, till it’s time for another woman to deliver another slap to Firangi Mallah followed by what seemed like an extension of the earlier item number, again with the strangest, most awkward movements.
Someone double-crosses, someone dies, someone comes back from the dead, and the same guy gets slapped again and the same item girl appears to do a repeat.
I kept dozing off in between Amitabh Bachchan’s valiant attempts at hamming and overacting, and the camera delivering him never as a whole, but in piecemeal — the baritone, the slow blink of those droopy eyes, the sluggish movement of simply drawing his swords cut into a million shots to insinuate energy when there was none.
At some point the gentleman to my right took pity and offered his shoulder as a perch for my continually dropping-dead neck, while the lady to my right disappeared after making some calls and checking her Facebook page.
The posts on FB page were way more riveting that all the big-big, boring-boring stuff happening on the screen. Except Lloyd Owen. His Clive was pure evil, quite fabulous.
I should have taken that lady's phone and posted a message on her FB page in jan-hit: If, post-Diwali, you are in desperate need for a deep nap, check yourself into a show of Duds of Hindostan. They won't disappoint....