As you slide into Thugs of Hindostan, you expect a rousing tale of thuggery and patriotism, because that’s what the name suggests. You also expect a modicum of quality filmmaking because you can’t get more A-list than Yash Raj Films, Amitabh Bachchan and Aamir Khan.
What you get instead is nothing but a massive cherry-picking enterprise from big entertainers of the past, many of them YRF’s own. Not only do you end up picking up on past films, scenes and references, you are left struggling with staleness and boredom.
Yes, this is thuggery on a large scale, and we the viewers are at the receiving end.
The film opens in 1795, with a father and a daughter building a sand-castle. Instantly you know where this is leading to. Sandcastles are equal to fragile structures which are washed away. Ergo, the castle the duo lives in is in danger. They are the victims and the aggressors are the British. The East India company is busy mopping up swathes of Hindustan, gobbling up ‘riyaasats’ and ‘rajas’ and demanding tax from poor ‘desh-wasis’. No, this is not Lagaan.
This is your cue to start the remember-that-film game. And picking up tropes, just as the characters of this film start skimming up ropes on ships (no, this is not Pirates of the Caribbean) and swinging from trees in jungles. Or walking the plank, and dancing in forest clearings, dressed in the kind of clothes best described as pirate-cool.
Bachchan plays Khudabaksh Jahaazi, who hates the idea of ‘Angrezon ki ghulami’, and harbours the dream of ‘azaadi’, along with his ‘fauj’. He also has a fierce-looking kite/eagle who circles him (no, this is not Coolie), as he goes about guarding the life of young-princess-in-hiding Zafira (Shaikh), and trying to get the greedy turncoat Firangi Mallah (Khan) into a desh-bhakt, who hangs out with his jokey ‘bachpan-ka-dost’ (Ayyub) when not making whoopee with a sexy ‘nachaniya’ (Kaif).
There are sword-fights on land and sea. The Brits are red-faced and venomous, except a token fellow who discovers goodness at a crucial moment. There are stagey, talky face-offs between Bachchan and Khan, and trying-to-be-kindling glances between Khan and Shaikh, and Kaif in jaw-dropping shake-it-shake-it mode, armed with a trademark risible dialogue. No, her name is not Sheela.
The only one having a blast is Aamir Khan, in his curly mop coloured a carrot shade, a glint-in-the-eye Awadhi thug. And while he’s around, it’s bearable. Just about.