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Film Review: “Thugs of Hindostan” may rob you of your money – depending on your mindset

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If you are having a bad day and want to kill time, watch it.

Every year, during Diwali, audiences wait with bated breath for the big Bollywood release of the year. In India, our biggest stars try to stake out holidays such as Diwali to maximize business for their movies, and typically, the breakdown has been that Diwali belongs to Shahrukh Khan, Christmas to Aamir Khan, Eid to Salman Khan and patriotic holidays for Akshay Kumar.

This year we see a switch as Aamir Khan’s latest big release, Thugs of Hindostan, is the Diwali bonanza of the year. In the making for almost two years, the film was advertised and promoted as an action-adventure extravaganza, something to the likes of what has never been witnessed before in India. The excitement for the film was only augmented by the fact that two of India’s biggest stars, Aamir Khan and Amitabh Bachchan, would be coming together for the first time under the prestigious Yash Raj Films banner. The fact that Katrina Kaif would also be in the movie, and that it would be directed by Vijay Krishna Acharya who made the blockbuster Dhoom 3, only made the wait for the film that much harder.

With such a big budget, great cast, trustworthy banner and lavish production values, does Thugs of Hindostan deliver? For the first time, I have what I would call a “mixed” review for a film…

Thugs tells the story of a princess, Zafira (Fatima Sana Sheikh), who witnesses the death of her family at the hands of the British in 1795. She escapes their wrath due to the agile work of her protector Khudabaksh Azaad (Amitabh Bachchan), and they subsequently start the “Azaad” freedom fighting movement against the British. We also have a humorous but unreliable character, Firangi Mallah (Aamir Khan), who becomes embroiled with both the British and the Azaad thugs. Can Firangi truly be trusted? Will the thugs defeat the British? To find answers to these questions, one has to see the film.

Amitabh Bachchan puts in an expectedly awesome performance as Khudabaksh. He still has the charisma and action chops, not to forget brilliant acting voice, and is depicted in a manner which is reminiscent of his “Coolie, Mard and Shahenshah” days. Some may scoff at those films, but for me, I was excited to see him back in a mainstream Hindi avatar.

Aamir Khan’s performance has been garnering mixed reviews from the audiences. Some say that he is annoying, others say he is trying too hard to ape Johnny Depp from Pirates of the Caribbean etc. For me, I think he did a good job. He did not annoy me and performed pretty seamlessly. He maintained a consistent graph for the character throughout and did not leave any false notes behind. I saw an interview recently where he shared how challenging this character was (which was also the sole reason he did the film, forgetting about the script for the first time in a while), where he had to tread a thin line between going over the top and being too restrained. I think he was able to strike that balance well. I also don’t think the original choice for this role, Hrithik Roshan, would be suitable for this light of a character. But I will also point out that of all the actors in the film, Aamir’s performance is the least impressive.

Fatima Sana Sheikh does an amazing job with her character. In her second film after Dangal as a leading actress, she is phenomenal and I foresee her becoming an actress of substance in the future. Ila Aruna is fine in her short role, though I don’t know why she was cast. They could have found a more obscure person for such an insignificant role. Mohammad Zeeshan Ayyub is not up to the mark this time. There is something irritating about the manner in which his character speaks, which is a true downer because he is otherwise a very talented actor. The British actors are all good but they especially deserve kudos for speaking Hindi throughout the film.

I want to dedicate an entire paragraph to Katrina Kaif. She is a tremendously hard working actress who worked diligently to learn Hindi, which is quite good now. She is still at the top of her game, no doubt about it, but I have no idea why she did this movie. Her character of Suraiyya is a sultry and seductive dancer, a role which Kat plays well, but adds absolutely nothing to the plot except glamour. Every filmmaker and writer should know that in a year where movies like Raazi, Sanju, Stree and Andhadhun are doing well, conventional glamour is not needed to make a film entertaining. If it fits in the story that’s one thing, but if it is there just for the sake of it, it is truly an intrusion on the narrative. Kat dances well in this role, acts well also, but her character is useless. Her songs add nothing (and they are not even good songs), and her scenes are extraneous as well. A waste of her talent.

The action in the movie is ambitious and some of the best I have ever seen in an Indian movie. Take for instance the pre-interval sequence, the Azaad army’s attack on the British boats with boulders or the scene in which Aamir is rescued by Amitabh. India has come a long way in the action department and it shows. Special effects are also pretty good, thought I will point out that there is an extremely annoying falcon (digitally created) which serves no purpose but to just show off its existence. It shows up at random times and contributes nothing. I bet some special effects money could have been saved without that character being there. Another aspect I did not like is the use of slow motion in action scenes. For example, Mr. Bachchan got that every time he came on or it happened in certain action scenes. It is too cheesy and Bollywood movies need to stop doing this! Trust me, action works better with the intensity of real motions.

The music is very forgettable by Ajay-Atul. Nothing more to be said here except that music was not necessary for this movie as it slackens the pace.

Editing is good, but the movie is a tad long at 3 hours. Whereas the first half moves along briskly, the second half gets a bit slower in the middle, only to pick up towards the end. Cutting some of the song sequences would be helpful here. Cinematography is top notch and dialogues are strictly ok. Nothing super memorable, except for the writer’s attempt to try and have Mr. Bachchan say some philosophical poetry, which ultimately does not register.

The script and direction is good by Mr. Acharya. Although the film is stylistically like Pirates of the Caribbean, it is not a copy. All action scenes are specific to this film and the story has a desi flavor. I would say that between his 3 ventures (Tashan, Dhoom 3 and Thugs), this one is his best.

So what did I think of this movie, given all of these aspects? I would say it is a one-time watch on the big screen if you want something mindless and fun. It does have some annoying techniques and loopholes, but those can be avoided if you go with an open mind. If you are having a bad day and want to kill time, watch it. If you want to see a “grand” Hindi movie, watch it. If you are looking for a message or substance, this is not for you. This is a movie about silly fun, and that’s all I expected and got. I will go with 3/5 for this one. I was thoroughly entertained.

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