Vijay Krishna Acharya's new fantasy adventure film was supposed to be a traditional Diwali money-spinner, and Bollywood’s answer to “Baahubali” and Hollywood franchise blockbusters like “Pirates of the Caribbean”. In short, it was supposed to be a spectacle.
Unfortunately, it ends up as a testament to the lack of originality in Bollywood - at least when it comes to the big stars and producers. “Thugs of Hindostan” is what happens when Bollywood sees the success of big-budget western franchises, wants to replicate them, but has no idea how to. It ends up borrowing elements from several films, and inserts star power into the proceedings, hoping it’ll create a bang loud enough to set the box office on fire.
But “Thugs of Hindostan” turns out to be an insipid, meandering film despite having two of Hindi cinema’s biggest stars, and a CGI budget that could have been put to better use. Worse, the plot is weak, with neither a convincing villain (a caricature of a white officer who periodically snarls and speaks chaste Urdu with a British accent) or a compelling cause (an abstract idea of freedom and slavery that no character is able to articulate).
Set in the 1800s after the East India Company colonized India, “Thugs of Hindostan” has Aamir Khan as Firangi Malla, a smart-talking crook who is a pro at tricking people. He acts as a small-time informer for the British, but we are never quite sure where his loyalties lie. He is asked to help gather information on Khudabaksh (Amitabh Bachchan), a pirate who leads a rogue army fighting the British and entrusted with the safety of Zafira, a princess whose family was killed by the British and who also took over her kingdom.
Both Khudabaksh and Zafira desire revenge, capturing ship after ship from the British, plundering their reserves and causing heavy losses. When Firangi lands up in their midst, they don’t know if they can trust him, but his sweet-talking ways and self-deprecating humour endears him to them.
Acharya inserts some action sequences in the sea, but these are lukewarm, and certainly nothing compared with the ones in “Pirates of the Caribbean”, a franchise the film draws heavily on. Katrina Kaif puts in a perfunctory appearance for a total of two songs and three other scenes – almost as if she was hired only for her sculpted body and dance movies. Most of the screen time is hogged by Khan and Bachchan, but the latter seems out of sorts as the aging warrior.
Khan is the only one having fun in this film, but that is partly because his character is so irreverent. Everyone else is overwrought, and the run time of three hours is an ordeal. “Thugs of Hindostan” is a sinking ship, and not even Aamir Khan and his Midas touch can salvage it.
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