Very little Thuggee in Thugs of Hindostan

Thugs of Hindostan

Directed by Vijay Krishna Acharya

Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Aamir Khan, Fatima Sana Shaikh, Lloyd Owen, Katrina Kaif and others

Rating 2 stars

Talk of waking up after the ship has sailed. Hollywood is tiring of the Pirates Of The Caribbean franchise (which went on for far too long, considering its origins as an amusement park ride), and a filmmaker in Mumbai suddenly gets inspired. Vijay Krishna Acharya’s Thugs Of Hindostan gets Aamir Khan to play a Jack Sparrow type and hopes the rest will fall into place.

It’s not as though one expects historical or geographical authenticity from a commercial Bollywood film, but some accuracy would have helped. First of all, in a film with Thugs in the title, there is very little Thuggee. There is a band of merry men and some women under Khudabaksh Jahaazi aka Azaad, (Amitabh Bachchan), who want independence from British rule, but they are not Thugs.

The film opens in 1795, when the stone-faced devils from the British East India company kill rajas and steal kingdoms. One such is snatched from Zafira’s (Fatia Sana Shaikh) family, and she is saved by Azaad so that he can teach her how to use a bow and arrow. Eleven years later, a crook who calls himself Firangi Mallah (Aamir Khan) rides in on a donkey and gives the red-uniformed tax collectors in the employ of the Brits a tough time.

But he is a kind of double agent, who collects from both sides, so when John Clive (Lloyd Owen) wants him to spy on Azaad, he plays one against the other, with his quick thinking and glib tongue. He also acquires a sidekick (Mohammad Zeeshan Ayyub) who serves no useful purpose, and between intrigues, gets the time to shake a leg with a sexy dancer Suraiya (Katrina Kaif), who wears very tiny costumes and does some Sheela Ki Jawaani kind of moves when they were not even invented.

Firangi, who wears a lot of jewellery and a top hat, wins the heart of Azaad, and they do a lot of buddy stuff, but the Brits keep interrupting. They are the kind of caricature ‘gora’ fools who speak to each other in Hindi, seat a scruffy spy at the head of a table and watch him eat, and celebrate Dussehra with the natives. Pity, no cricket!

There is a lot of storming of ships, swinging on vines, sword fights and shootouts, but not a minute of excitement or an iota of thrills, as characters dressed in grungy chic costumes, odd headgear and tattoos, rush about looking for a lost plot with loud background music. Only Aamir Khan, with his twinkling eyes and dazzling smile, looks like he is having fun—at least he gets some witty lines. This is the kind of film that could drive Amitabh Bachchan into retirement!

Oh, and btw, was the hawk that glides around the rebel camp, picked from Guru Dutt’s pirate adventure Baaz (1953)? Sixty-five years ago, they could swagger and swashbuckle better than these folk with a huge budget and expensive CGI at their disposal.

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Deepa Gahlot is one of India’s seniormost and best known entertainment journalists. A National Awardwinning film critic, Deepa has watched more movies and theatre than most people in the country. An author of several books on film and theatre, she has had an extremely successful run as head of theatre and film at the National Centre for Performing Arts, Mumbai, during which she helped nurture several original productions. For Xyngr, Deepa Gahlot reviews theatre and cinema.