Yash Raj Films' ambitious drama, Thugs of Hindostan, directed by Vijay Krishna Acharya, is a tedious, laborious watch, one that reaches such bizarre levels of absurdity, you wonder if the film is a parody of itself.
From Amitabh Bachchan, who plays a rebellious pirate determined to free India from the clutches of the British Empire, to Aamir Khan, a manipulative, self-seeking character that largely draws from the eccentricities of captain Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Carribbean universe, there's nothing original or exciting about Thugs of Hindostan, a vanity project that tries to cash in on the profitable wave triggered by the Baahubali movies.
The movie, set in 1857, has a narrative style reminiscent of tropes used in embarrassing movies from '80s Bollywood—villains seen through silhouettes, overdramatic background score, random one-liners with even more random metaphors and an omnipresent spooky eagle. This feels like a recycled version of every bad movie you've ever seen.
Certain scenes make you wonder if the movie is in on the joke or whether it actually merits some serious thinking from the viewer's perspective. Is Bachchan's character being sarcastic or serious after being rescued from his deathbed? Did these guys just perform an elaborate dance number in a bid to overthrow the vile British empire by guilt-tripping them? Does the humour in Khan's character come from self-awareness, in the sense that he's slyly taking a dig at himself for signing up for this film? Why, given the current conversation and a justified demand for well-fleshed out roles for women, is Katrina Kaif's midriff given more prominence than her character arc?
The only thing more superficial than Kaif's dialogue delivery in Thugs is the film's VFX. And that's saying a lot about the film's special effects, or the lack of them. Why do we constantly set ourselves such modest standards despite the resources? If our country's best studio can only produce this quality of VFX output, where are we going wrong?
All these deeply unsettling questions engulf you when you watch Thugs of Hindostan, a film so monumentally stupid, it doesn't quite realise how stupid it is being. While one must not easily forgive lazily written characters, such as Fatima Sana Shaikh's Zafira, an action movie can perhaps compensate for lack of depth by showing some well-crafted action set-pieces.
But having such expectations would be inviting dhokha (or betrayal, which is inevitable, as the movie philosophises). The film's action sequences are generic, lack imagination and leave you largely unimpressed. Unlike most standard Hollywood films, which manage to sneak in at least a couple of standout action set-pieces, Thugs, for all its scale and ambition, features none.
The only saving grace in the movie is Khan, who could probably sleepwalk through this role but chooses to have fun with it. The actor, who had a similar accent in Rajkumar Hirani's PK, is fairly hilarious and consistent in his unpredictability throughout the film. There are moments when his shifting loyalties genuinely add a layer of curiosity, but that's pretty much it—not nearly enough bang for your multiplex-ticket buck.
Here was an actual opportunity to mount a handsome production that revealed the horrors of British colonialism and how a bunch of eccentric pirates attempted to overthrow it. But by lacing the film with humour that feels out of place, by not examining the trauma the British inflicted on India, by taking away the soul of a story in favour of silly dialogue baazi, Thugs might turn out to be a box-office firecracker, but that wouldn't make it a good film, or even an average one.
In the film, the word azaad (freedom) is repeated innumerable times.vAnd that's what really stuck with me after leaving the theatre. We do want freedom—from mediocrity, manipulation and lazy filmmaking practiced under the garb of entertainment.