Thugs of Hindostan
Director – Vijay Krishna Acharya
Cast – Aamir Khan, Amitabh Bachchan, Katrina kaif, Fatima Sana Shaikh
Rating – 1/5
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 feeble, formulaic and entirely forgettable. Directed by Dhoom 3’s Vijay Krishna Acharya, here is a film so dull and unoriginal that it can only inspire the shrugs of Hindustan.
This is Pirates Of The Caribbean without pirates 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 so childish I fear the Yash Raj writing room may be an illegal sweatshop. This film, alongside Ashutosh Gowarikar’s painful Mohenjo Daro, may — alarmingly enough — make a strong case for leaving historical Hindi hysterics to Sanjay Leela Bhansali, who understands scale and pageantry. Acharya shoots far too much action in slow-motion, from swordsmen swinging on conveniently placed vines to collapsing mothers, amping up the frames per second to disguise the lack of storytelling craft. Nearly three hours long, Thugs Of Hindostan is a film hardly ever larger, but certainly slower than life.
A word, now, about Jack Sparrow. Think what you will of Johnny Depp today — and it is true nobody remembers the last Pirates installment — but when he brought Sparrow alive in 2003, it was an audaciously original act. It rightly earned the actor an Oscar nomination (one he should have won) for the way he created a wholly unprecedented protagonist. That fey swagger, that air of constant bewilderment… We never saw a kohl-eyed, rum-fetishising hero like Captain Jack. Khan, who told the press he wants people to forget Sparrow after seeing his character, Firangi, may have taken his own advice to heart too soon and forgotten the majesty of Depp. Firangi is one of Khan’s most unremarkable characters, a rogue free of charisma or cleverness, with barely a line worth remembering.
This is principally why Thugs Of Hindostan sinks. It prioritises size over smarts, set-pieces over the script. The size, too, is unimpressive, with cardboard-y visual effects, poor rope-physics, haphazard continuity and decks of ships that look too small, but all that could have been forgiven — the $41 million budget wouldn’t go far in Hollywood either — if the film gave us characters worth caring about or laughing with. Set-pieces matter, but adventure films become special because of the lines we end up quoting and the protagonists we cheer for. Instead we have Khan-in-kajal, alongside a gruff and grizzly Bachchan, weighed 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, mind you, not fierce enough. She’s a warrior who repeatedly needs to be rescued, but hey, at least she makes excellent sandcastles. Shaikh doesn’t bring much to the part, and when she does speak, she does it flatly enough to justify her lack of lines. Also, there is an upside-down stick figure tattooed on her chin, like someone played Hangman on her face while she was sleeping.
In the other corner, dancing whenever you look, is Katrina Kaif. She’s a sassy girl who says the word ‘bekhauf’ correctly, and makes an unsubtle dick joke — she repeats it twice, in case the audience had successfully ignored it — and while she slaps Khan and seems in charge of their dynamic, there are frequent lapses. From time to time she looks suddenly and improbably aroused, like Khan’d been momentarily swapped out for a bottle of mango juice. Kaif shakes her impressive abs with enthusiasm, but the songs are odd. I can’t quite get over a scene where Sheikh, without warning, breaks into a song that goes “Baba, Baba,” to which Kaif reacts by pirouetting aggressively in sequinned silver shorts, as if channelling a black sheep.
The spectre of old Bollywood looms large over Thugs Of Hindostan. An old man sings about imli, Sharat Saxena tries to look valiant, Ila Arun plays a medicine woman, while Mohammad Zeeshan Ayub, who plays Khan’s man Friday, is literally named Saturday. And then — by the beloved beard of Bob Christo — there are the redcoats, hamming it up. The British villain is naturally given the easily despised name Clive, and he speaks to his 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.