Thugs of Hindostan

THUGS OF HINDOSTAN, one of the most expensive and elaborate epics ever produced in India, was a surprising flop, both critically and commercially. That it didn’t make a dent in the U.S. market is understandable, but to this impressed fan the rejection in its home country feels inexplicable. We shamefully admit to not having more than a glancing grasp of Bollywood’s prodigious output, let alone insight into whatever passes for the ebb & flow of cinema appreciation in India (let’s assume their critics are at least as hard to please as they are anywhere), but we found this adventure extravaganza to be quite entertaining. Seekhane ke lie bahut kuchh hai…

During the 1800s, as the East India Company proceeds with divide & conquer tactics in the various kingdom’s comprising India (then known as Hindostan) resistance comes from dissimilar characters who band together to fight them. Petty conman and all-round rascal ‘Firangi Mallah’ (Aamir Khan) is as shifty as they come, but fierce warrior chieftain ‘Azaad’ (Amitabh Bachchan) has faith in the rogue. At Azaad’s side is his fierce adopted daughter, fugitive princess ‘Zafira Baig’ (Fatima Sana Shaikh), who has a personal score to settle with ruthless Company officer ‘Lord Clive’ (Lloyd Owen). Firangi has a tempestuous relationship with dancer ‘Suraiyya’ (Katrina Kaif), who will play her tantalizing part in battling the brutish British. Betrayals ensue and battles are waged. *

One of the highest-budgeted Bollywood spectacles yet, mounted for $31,000,000 (lowball estimate), it grossed just $48,000,000 worldwide, less than half of that in India (only $1,400,000 in the U.S.), and was not well-received by many reviewers, but there’s ample enjoyment to be had in the performances from the enthusiastic Khan and imposing Bachchan, the extravagant special effects and action scenes, and the lavish production numbers, especially those featuring the dazzling Kaif.

Written & directed by Vijay Krishna Acharya. Plush cinematography by Manush Nandan, rousing music by Ajay-Atul and John Stewart-Eduri. In India the locations included Jodhpur, with more work accomplished in Malta and Thailand.

With Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, Illa Arun, Ronit Roy, Satyadev Kancharana. Long at 166 minutes, but it rarely lags. Great fun.

* The thugs in the title are not the infamous Thuggee cult of thieves and murderers familiar from Gunga Din, The Deceivers and The Stranglers Of Bombay. The character of Clive is not the famous (infamous in India) robber-ruler Robert Clive (1725-1774), but the last name is used as a deliberate slap at the real heel. For old school phonus balonus movie on that imperialist, there is Hollywood’s 1935 suck-up to England in Clive Of India, with Ronald Colman, Loretta Young and descendant Colin Clive (of Frankenstein fame).

 

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