As the curtains roll up, we witness a tender moment between a little girl and her doting dad. Ye Mitti Azaad Hai, he proudly proclaims, as the camera zooms in on her tiny hands, as she moulds a mud castle. A metaphor that director Vijay Krishna Acharya is determined to play out, probably because he thought it’d be lost in the lavish costume drama that he pitched for us.
Evidently, he believes the audience needs spoon-feeding. At 164-minutes of screen time, it’s an extremely exhausting task to watch him manipulate, albeit unimaginatively, through the over-the-top profound dialogues and bafflingly loud background scores. But we are ahead of him, at every leg of the race. That’s because Vijay sticks to the formulaic Bollywood format, never pushing himself to pack in thrills or kicks. And that’s probably because the filmmakers refused to invest in writing talent and decided to let the director, who made Tashan and Dhoom 3, pen the screenplay himself. Even the special effects, while impressive at parts, crumbles at crucial points. The budget, clearly, was set aside exclusively for make-up and a Pirates of the Carribean-inspired wardrobe.
Throw in stunning camera work that showcases castles, lush mountains and magnificent ships and the deal was sealed. Oh! And, there's also overzealous choreographers who make even the most reluctant rebel dance like Prabhudeva!
The director arms one hero with a majestic sword and husky voice while the other gets a donkey who appears and disappears according to his whims and fancies. Plus, he has a penchant for all things British.
The old man is a confessed loyalist while the firangi is a trusted betrayer. They are poles apart but must end up fighting good over evil because Dusshera is just around the corner and the Brits are equally gung-ho about the festival just like the desis. There’s a girl in the midst of it all who is seeking revenge, and maybe love. But neither the thugs nor the traitor nor their oppressors possess any amount of sense or logic. Each defeat the other with their own idiosyncrasies. At one point, firangi spots a Brit from the crowd by merely looking at his shoes, even though his gang wears some really cool boots themselves. Or, when firangi manages to pass off as a Brit by wearing a horrid wig. Or, when British soldiers talk to the Indians and even each other in shuddh Hindi.
Even the performances don't win us over. Amitabh Bachchan lets his beard and wavy wig do much of the work because after a point even his baritone turns monotonous. Some action sequences are shot by his body double who you can spot from a mile. Aamir Khan manages to charm us with his Johnny Depp-act but his efforts don't match up. We never connect with his firangi and are unable to cheer his buffoonery or dish his vices. He’s obviously undone what he managed to achieve in Lagaan because in here, his twisted patriotism isn’t one we can applaud.
The women, both the dancer and the warrior, have nothing much to do. Fatima Sana Sheikh glares through much of her part and has very little to say. In fact, Katrina Kaif and her abs have more to do and say than her. There are more women in the rebellion who appear when there’s a dance but never on the battleground. Even Ila Arun has very little to do.
Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub slips into a strange get-up to play firangi's sidekick, while Owen turns the conniving colonial ruler. The only moment that really stuck with me was when little Zafira struggles to lift a sword as her father is left broken.
At the end of it, Thugs of Hindostan is all fluff and no stuff. Had the filmmakers invested the money where it mattered this movie would’ve been something spectacular.