Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Thugs of Hindostan

Silly thought I had upon seeing the ads for this - isn't "thug" a word that we're supposed to kind of move away from, especially when talking about South Asian people, as not quite a slur but for having arisen from a sensationalist racist stereotype? I thought I'd read that somewhere. A shame if so, because it's a nicely harsh four-letter word can't help but come out with contempt; it's also how I remember a former co-worker's Irish accent, in that the word almost sounded like "tug" when he said it.

Oddly, when people use it in this movie, it's very much in the modern generically-violent-robber sense, to the point where I think Firangi calls other people "thugs" even though he's the one who joins a caravan with the express purpose of selling them out, although I didn't take the best notes there. Interesting that this was actually a part of the movie, as the Thuggee cult got fairly distorted from those supposed origins as Brits and Americans needed exotic villains. Despite what some places seem to be claiming, it doesn't seem to be any sort of adaptation of Confessions of a Thug.

In completely unrelated discussion, I wish Apple Cinemas would become a place with a kitchen or just the means to heat up a pizza or something. Three hour movies starting at 6:30 mean no real supper options means making a meal of nachos.

Thugs of Hindostan

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 13 November 2018 in Apple Cinemas Cambridge/Fresh Pond #1 (first-run, DCP)

It's about ten minutes into Thugs of Hindostan before someone is swinging on a rope for the first time, and let me level with you People swinging through the air on a rope to escape danger or enter a fray is a large part of what I want from a swashbuckling adventure, along with swordfights, cannons, and sneering villains. This movie has all that along with a few musical numbers and actual mustache twirling, and while it sometimes strains under the pressure of including all of that, it's still a pretty good time.

In 1795, almost the entire Indian subcontinent had fallen under the control of the British East India Tea Company, represented by John Clive (Lloyd Owen), and he had his eyes on the last remaining free kingdom. King Mirza Sikander Baig (Ronit Roy) prepared to fight back, but Clive gets the drop on him, with only pre-teen Princess Zafira escaping with legendary warrior Khudabaksh (Amitabh Bachchan). Eleven years later, Clive has total control, though Khudabaksh (aka "Azaad") and Zafira (Fatima Sana Shaikh) lead a persistent rebellion. Clive recruits informat Firangi (Aamir Khan) to find his hidden base after Firangi crashes a whites-only performance of the dancer Suraiyya (Katrina Kaif), and with the help of his old friend - hard-drinking mystic Shanichar (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub), Firangi soon manages to find himself on a merchant ship that Azaad attacks. Can he become a hero like Azaad and Zafira, or will his mercenary nature prevail?

As much as people generally like the idea of pirate stories as swashbuckling period adventures, audiences have often been apt to look at them as cheesy or embarrassing when it comes time to buy a ticket, so filmmakers feel the need to cram all they can in to what they probably figure is the only one they'll ever get to make. Writer/director Vijay Krishna Acharya, who previously made the hit Dhoom 3, is guilty of that - not only is there so much swinging on ropes, but characters are forced to walk the plank and the post-intermission half of the movie is working overtime to cram every possible permutation of the basic story in. The budget doesn't quite stretch - though the production built some nice sets on land including the ships, they don't appear to be seaworthy, and animating water and boats in daylight is harder than it looks, before you even get to the fire.

Full review at EFC.

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