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Wednesday, Aug 21, 2019

Khuda, baksh us from the ‘Ughs’ of Hindostan

mumbai Updated: Nov 10, 2018 23:12 IST
Deepanjana Pal
Deepanjana Pal
Hindustan Times
Amitabh Bachchan in a still from Thugs of Hindostan.
Amitabh Bachchan in a still from Thugs of Hindostan.(HT Photo)

About 20 minutes into Thugs of Hindostan, the film’s best actor appears. It’s Khudabaksh’s eagle and don’t you dare dismiss the bird just because it’s computer-generated.

The eagle makes an entry before Aamir Khan and saves the day more often than Firangi. It has more on-screen time than Katrina Kaif, one of the film’s heroines. There’s more emotion in the eagle’s keening cries than on Amitabh Bachchan’s face, which is mostly smothered under fabric and a fake beard. While the eagle communicates emotions like worry and triumph, the only thing flatter and more rigid than Bachchan’s face is Kaif’s abdomen.

The real revelation of Thugs of Hindostan is not that it earned Rs 50 crore in one day. While this is a staggering figure, it makes sense when you think of Khan and Bachchan’s fan following and keep in mind that it feels like ages since we had a proper, masala blockbuster in theatres. Just as the 45% drop in box office collections on day two also makes sense – it’s hard to imagine anyone not being disappointed by Thugs of Hindostan.

The deepest cut that the film delivers is that two of Bollywood’s most reliable actors are not too big to fail. The one thing audiences should expect of Khan and Bachchan starrer is good acting. So of course the script of Thugs of Hindostan ignores every other character to glorify Firangi (Khan) and Khudabaksh (Bachchan). When not even a twinkle of Khan and Bachchan’s star power can sneak out from under their elaborately made-up faces, it’s a blow from which the film can’t recover.

Khan’s Firangi exhausts the viewer with his overacting and verbal diarrhoea. Next to Khan’s manic, bug-eyed turn is Bachchan looking grumpy and exhausted. His Khudabaksh is in such dire need of new batteries that he can barely move his lips to speak. It’s tempting to imagine Thugs of Hindostan with two actors who didn’t fake it so badly. A little chemistry and energy might just have made the audience lose themselves in the Technicolor ridiculousness, excellent production design and (mostly) smooth visual effects.

When you buy a ticket for a Bollywood film, along with money you hand over expectations of logic, historical accuracy and originality in plot. Which means no one watching Thugs of Hindostan was expecting a crash course on how and whether the British wiped out Thuggees in the 1830s (some academics think thuggees were a British invention). Neither would anyone have raised an eyebrow at the film’s villain being named Clive and most of the action taking place in 1806 (Clive of India died in 1774). Few would have cared that Khan’s Firangi and the ship-stealing prank make Thugs of Hindostan look like a Pirates of the Caribbean fan fiction. Those who noticed the similarities between Zafira and Legolas from Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy (Braids: Check. Archery: Check. Pouty lips: Check. Acrobatics: Check) may even have clapped a little louder because it’s one of the few surprises in the film.

Unfortunately, when you’re bored out of your wits instead of being entertained, you end up noticing what’s out of whack.

For instance, how is it that Raunakpur in Thugs of Hindostan is shown as landlocked in the map, but has a coastline that could be (and is) right out of Malta? Why are two Englishmen speaking in Hindi to each other? Who are these Indians who can supposedly blend into a crowd of white Englishmen by putting on a (bad) blonde wig? Why would Khudabaksh trust the protection of the person most dear to him to a man he’s just discovered to be a traitor? How is it that Dussehra celebrations in Raunakpur look so much like they’re going back to the future to the 1983 Himmatwala? Does the fact – SPOILER ALERT – that the bad guy gets his comeuppance from a girl make up for how little time is given to the female characters in Thugs of Hindostan and the fact that the four times Kaif is on screen, the camera focuses on her torso?

Before you know it, there are more questions than there is popcorn and while the popcorn gets over, the film doesn’t.

First Published: Nov 10, 2018 23:12 IST

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