Boosted by the huge box-office success of SS Rajamouli’s Baahubali, commercial Indian cinema has big things planned before the year is out. Among them are Tamil superstar Rajinikanth’s return in 2.0 and Shah Rukh Khan reducing himself to a visual effect in the Christmas release Zero. Thugs of Hindostan, however, is the biggest of all: a 164-minute period swashbuckler that deploys Bollywood’s grandest-ever budget and megastars Aamir Khan and Amitabh Bachchan to stage a pirate uprising against the East India Company. As if that weren’t enough, it’s also playing widely in Imax. As the use of Benny Hill-style fast-motion and some near-to-the-knuckle flirting between Khan and dancing girl Katrina Kaif imply, it is also – not unlike Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean – big, daft pantomime, and might be better enjoyed with a school’s-out mindset and the right bag of snacks.
You’ll need to make peace with the fact that plot matters less than the prospect of major stars running rings around one another. The first half floats the question of who might best lead the rebellion: grizzled salt Khudabaksh (Bachchan, still a mighty screen presence at 76, despite understandable slowness in the action scenes) or Khan’s smirking, kohl-eyed triple agent Firangi, who trots into view on an ass, having seemingly been styled after Bob Dylan’s character Alias in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. Although a third option presents herself in trainee warrior princess Zafira (Dangal’s Fatima Sana Shaikh, dourly tomboyish here), the outcome is unusually boysy for modern Bollywood – it’s a great pity that Kaif, dazzling in her two musical numbers, should wind up with less screen time than the donkey.
If Thugs is diverting, it’s largely because writer-director Vijay Krishna Acharya is far more interested in the pirate life than those Disney knockabouts. We get tactical sea battles, plenty of cove action, swordfights choreographed like dance numbers, even a fiery 19th-century South Asian equivalent of a Norse burial. This is a film with money to burn, and it unabashedly torches each rupee before your eyes. Granted, it gets less irreverent as it goes on, and in terms of historical accuracy, it can be placed alongside those bank holiday staples Titanic and Muppet Treasure Island. Yet it has that rare and unmistakable look of an event movie that was huge fun to assemble. Whether you’re watching in Hindi, Tamil or Telugu – or reliant on English subtitles – much of that enjoyment does translate.
This news has been published by title Thugs Of Hindostan Review – Bollywood Swashbuckler Takes On Disney\'s Pirates
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