Dregs of Hindostan

Poulomi Das | Updated on December 28, 2018 Published on December 28, 2018

Much ado about nothing: Thugs of Hindostan’s budget was a whopping ₹300 crore, enough to bankroll every Indian celebrity (destination) wedding this year

The year’s most anticipated film turned out to be a crashing bore

It took all of one week for Vijay Krishna Acharya’s Thugs of Hindostan — a period drama dunked in VFX — to go from being the year’s most anticipated movie to an epic disaster.

Despite it being a year of three Khan (and one Kumar and Kapoor each) outings, the hype that was ostensibly created around Thugs of Hindostan was unparalleled. It was presumed to break new ground in every realm of artistic alchemy. Some believed it would redefine the Bollywood standard for emulating Hollywood plots. Some thought it’d set the benchmark for mounting big-budget Hindi historical dramas that were also action-adventure films. Some were confident that it’d evoke raucous laughter as well as steady tears. And a few even welcomed the idea of a Shahenshah sequel two decades later — with the British as the criminals.

Except, the almost three-hour-long Thugs of Hindostan ended up being none of these.

Perhaps the most incredulous part about the film sinking was that Yash Raj Films had painstakingly ensured that it was iceberg-proof: Thugs of Hindostan’s budget was a whopping ₹300 crore, an amount that could have bankrolled every Indian celebrity (destination) wedding this year — including Isha Ambani’s multi-Filmfaresque functions. It managed the incredible coup of getting Amitabh Bachchan and Aamir Khan in the same frame for the very first time, a whole month before Mukesh Ambani offered them the role of a lifetime: Wedding food servers. The film secured an exclusive release during the lucrative Diwali weekend; it signed Katrina Kaif’s dance moves for a starring role; and unabashedly borrowed from Jack Sparrow, arguably one of Hollywood star Johnny Depp’s most seminal characters.

Essentially, every chunk that made up Thugs of Hindostan was primed for record-breaking success — no less than a student being lovingly consulted while the teacher sets a question paper and then being gifted a copy months before the exam. The only task was to show up at the examination centre. And yet Thugs of Hindostan lost its way.

It’s not difficult to see why. The logic and plot of Thugs of Hindostan were inversely proportional to the gravitas of its leading men. The lofty and inexact declarations start off from the film’s title itself: 15 minutes into the spectacle, it’s evident that none of the film’s leads are Thugs, who are an “organised gang of professional robbers and murderers”. Firangi Mallah (Khan) is just a compulsive and terrible liar. Zafira (Fatima Sheikh) is a princess-in-distress. Suraiyya (Katrina Kaif) is a manic-pixie dancer girl. And Khudabaksh (Bachchan) is an underperforming bodyguard. They’re also all from a part-time-island, full-time-fort-town called Raunakpur. A more appropriate title would then be Rotlus (crybabies) of Raunakpur.

The film doesn’t fare any better plot-wise. Its first scene opens in a magical alternative universe in 1795 where the British — colonisers of an entire country — are scared off by an Indian nawab. If that didn’t demand enough suspension of disbelief, next comes the information that the British don’t just understand every word of Hindi, but also speak it in chaste Katrina Kaif accent™ throughout the film. At this point, the only thing that Thugs of Hindostan redefines is the credibility of historical fiction.

Yet, the singularly most baffling decision of the film is to offer up as its hero a 70-year-old bodyguard who gloriously fails at protecting a nawab’s family. In any other film, he’d be the villain who is made to live with the guilt of orphaning a princess. But Khudabaksh sings lullabies when he isn’t teaching the art of patriotism to an Indian who aspires to be “Firangi”. It’s as difficult to invest in the film’s other hero: A flaky man whose superpower is that he can’t make up his mind.

The result is this — a film that promised to be a tale of bravery displayed by a bunch of Indians against the British instead becomes a shoddy self-help guide titled ‘How to Protect a Girl in 50 Days’. Thugs ofHindostan’s male leads bond over their shared hobby of rescuing a woman who can save herself, by exchanging a bracelet that is transported by a falcon. A film that peddles alt-facts such as padded tops being invented in the 1800s. A film that claimed to be a story of a warrior princess exacting revenge on her family’s murderers but is instead a borefest where she does the crying while men do the fighting.

A film that was supposed to be India’s answer to Pirates of the Caribbean but became Thugs of Hindostan, India’s sequel to Mohenjo Daro (2016). The last time Yash Raj Films — the country’s formidable production house — had been subject to such abject mortification, it had launched Uday Chopra.

Poulomi Das is a film and pop-culture writer based in Mumbai

Dud, dud, dud

  • Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmaavat, slated to be the magnum opus India never witnessed before, had the country’s backing the moment members of the Rajput Karni Sena opened their mouth. In fact, everyone was so sympathetic to Padmaavat, that we were even ready to overlook the possibility of the film running for five straight hours. People thronged theatres expecting to glean nuggets about Rajput valour or any other lesson from history they may have missed before. Instead, Padmaavat’s biggest revelation was that Shahid Kapoor’s wax statue was its hero. Although, it did teach us the three words that should never be used to win an argument or war: Rajput ke usool (the Rajput code).

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Published on December 28, 2018
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