Thugs of Hindostan Review (No Spoilers): A Film That Runs from Anything Real

Well, that was odd!  A movie with a lot of depth and meaning and purpose that somehow got shrunk and diminished until it became meaningless and small and ugly.  Huh.  Oh, but the action scenes are still kind of fun, you should still watch it for that if you want.

Indian film has a long glorious tradition of these kind of big epics.  Telugu cinema in particular, but Hindi as well.  Aan, with Dilip Kumar playing the noble bandit that saves the corrupt kingdom.  Before him, Fearless Nadia saving innocent maidens from cruel kings left and right.  Sikander, with the army of thousands turned away by love and kindness.  Mughal-E-Azam, of course.  Razia Sultan, Hema Malini and her faithful soldier Dharmendra.  Ajooba, Shashi Kapoor’s failed fantasy epic.  Rajkumari (my favorite) with Anil Kapoor and Madhuri as the lost prince and trapped princess.  And of course Bahubali which crossed out of Telugu into Hindi.  What makes some of these films work better than others, what makes them memorable, is when it isn’t just the images that are Epic, but also the meaning.

Image result for thugs of hindostan poster

This film constantly avoids that meaning.  It puts the ignoble people and ignoble motives over the pure of heart.  You are left thinking not so much “why should I care?” but “why won’t you let me care?”  The film shies away from any moment of sincerity, like a teenage boy who is afraid to see us cry.

Or, like an Aamir Khan who is afraid to see us cry.  This film might be (I hope) the pinnacle of a certain kind of Aamir performance, the one that is based on accents and costumes and tricks instead of digging deep inside and feeling something, and making us feel it too.  And he can do it, when he wants to.  I kept thinking back on Ghulam while I was watching this, another movie where he played a daring trickster with obscure motives.  But the film, and Aamir’s performance, peeled back the layers for us.  We saw the real person under all those tricks, and he broke our heart.  Ghulam is an emotional catharsis, every moment of betrayal felt like we are both the ones being betrayed and carrying the guilt of betrayal, building up to the finale which feels like a shared moment of redemption.  In this movie, every moment of betrayal feels like a betrayal of us as an audience, which was beginning to feel something for this character only to learn that no, it was just another series of games and tricks and wacky hats.

What makes it especially painful is that Amitabh and Fatima Sana Sheikh’s performances are the opposite of tricks and costumes.  Amitabh wears his armor like a brace, keeping him strong and upright and still, possibly literally (the man is very old and very sick to still be doing action scenes!) his performance is not there, it is in his eyes and his voice.  Those two things alone are able to convey so much more depth and emotion than all of Aamir’s body wriggles and head tilts and tinted glasses.  Fatima, she isn’t afraid to let us see her cry.  That’s the most important part of her character, she is strong and brave and can take care of herself, but she will also cry out her pain and feel real things and let the audience see her feeling them.

The film has flaws besides Aamir’s character/performance, but if it managed a great sweep of emotion, it might have been able to carry us bast those.  The plot, truly, makes no sense.  There’s one moment when the Evil British Dude calls on an old enemy of Aamir for help, there is much twirling of mustaches and implication of evil schemes afoot.  And then, nothing comes of it?  It feels like a follow-up scene must have been left on the cutting room floor but for some reason the set-up scene remains.  At another point, we see trapped steerage pass angers on a ship which is later blown to bits and we never see them rescued.  So, they are all dead then?  Why show them to us if you aren’t going to follow that up?  And then the usual problems with these kinds of films, Amitabh and Fatima’s group grows and shrinks depending on plot needs.  Women and children appear and disappear as part of them.

Actually, NO!  That last isn’t a small problem at all!  We have Fatima as this strong warrior women, but every other woman we see as part of the group is just a prop for a sexy song.  It would have been so easy to show more women fighting as part of the group.  Or else to slightly change the way they were used in songs to indicate that they are strong independent wives and mothers to the fighters, not just sexual slaves.  We need a reason to cheer for this people, a reason to want them to win, and it shows a remarkable blindness and shallowness on the part of the filmmakers not to realize that the British forcing Katrina to dance and Amitabh and Aamir dancing with these random unidentified sexualized women is far too similar for the audience to feel any real difference.

That’s the real problem, I think.  The filmmakers never stopped to think why their heroes were fighting.  Why were the British bad and the Indians good?  Why did you need to keep fighting no matter what?  Behind all the swords and ships and excitement, what is the heart of it all?

The answer is right there in front of them, the heart is between Amitabh and Fatima, what they mean to each other and why they keep fighting for each other.  But true love like that, true sacrificing unselfish love, it is scary.  And so Aamir, and Victor Acharya, and Aditya Chopra, and everyone else ran away from that, ran towards something a little less painful and a little less real.

(This one song video has more emotion in it than anything in the real film, beyond the two times this song is repeated)

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41 thoughts on “Thugs of Hindostan Review (No Spoilers): A Film That Runs from Anything Real

  1. The reviews on Twitter are SO BAD and yes Race 3 level bad only Aamir doesn’t have the rabid fanboy base to make up for it. I have to see it this weekend but I may spare my husband from having to go with me.

    This film might be (I hope) the pinnacle of a certain kind of Aamir performance, the one that is based on accents and costumes and tricks instead of digging deep inside and feeling something, and making us feel it too.

    I was having this conversation with hubby the other day, that when Aamir goes wrong it’s when he gets obsessed with a bag of tricks and it’s usually when he doesn’t have strong actors to work with or a director willing to sit on him. But he’s with Amitabh in this one so it’s even more shocking.

    I had a conversation on Twitter about a possible paradigm shift in Hindi cinema, the three Khans have all failed big recently while the small guys like Ayushmaan and Rajkummar are pulling in 100 crore on inexpensive films. And the films were both social critiques that are also comedies. And they succeeded in all areas, urban, rural, international. I really think there’s a big shift going on, maybe social, maybe technology driven, maybe both.

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      • I thought Aamir had made a good transition based on Dangal but maybe he couldn’t resist the starry persona either because otherwise, Thugs makes no sense. I think he wanted to have his movie star moment the way he did in Dhoom. That was also a poor movie but I think it gave him the wrong confidence since the box office worked. It was not because of him – the franchise name saved it. If Dhoom 4 is ever made, it’s going to be a mighty struggle because people don’t hold a good opinion on it anymore all thanks to the last one.

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      • Yep, absolutely. They aren’t even that expensive necessarily, at least not directly, I think they are mostly getting profit percentages, not contract payments. And if the film flops, it’s the Khans who cover the losses, so the producers actually end up making more money in a weird way.

        But they are indirectly expensive, because if you get a Khan, then you have to do Khan level marketing and number of screens and so on and so forth.

        On Thu, Nov 8, 2018 at 3:20 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • YashRaj are retweting every positve tweet they find, and it’s funny because now my TL looks like layered cake made with bad and good opinions about TOH.

      I can be wrong, but in my opinion there was too much buzz about this movie for too long. I couldn’t care less about it, but still I knew months ago that they are filming it, and that it will be big, and special, and Aamir will have interesting look etc. Now, few days before the premiere Aamir went to Karan and said “it’s only fun, nothing too serious” but it was too late. People were both excited (for the cast and the budget) and sceptical (because of the trailer). I think it’s the worst mix.

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      • But just this wasn’t the case…it was a mix of fun & serious but how connect to fun when one doesn’t find it funny & how take something serious when one doesn’t get to know why the heck one should take it serious?

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      • I’m trying to remember how Dhoom 3 was promoted. I don’t think it was done the same way, maybe just because it was a Dhoom film, so people already had low expectations in a certain way. They knew it would be a big shallow film with fun action scenes, and no big promotion campaign was going to make it feel different. But this one, Aamir and Amitabh announced as co-stars over two years ago I think and then the rest of the cast and it just kept rolling, instead of sneaking out like a fun silly holiday release.

        On Thu, Nov 8, 2018 at 3:54 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • HA! I said this LAST SUMMER!!!! When the big films started having big opening weekends and the other smaller films started just running and running and running.

      Anyway, yes, I think the Khans are failing. Or more accurately, I think big films are failing and the Khans are part of that, a sign of a “big” film. I don’t know if they will be able to shrink themselves down. Shahrukh talked about how he was offered Ittefaq (one of those small smart movies) and had to turn it down because he knew if he took a part in it, the film wouldn’t be what it needed to be. So he produced it instead and Akshaye Khanna took his role.

      On Thu, Nov 8, 2018 at 3:16 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • I agree that we’re in the middle of a generational shift and when the history is writte years from now, the new age heroes Irfan Khan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Rajkumar, and Ayushmann will be the vanguard of this new age of story-driven, realistic characters. I think Shahid, Ranbir, and Ranveer are the three caught in-between the superstar Khan age and the new age.

        I just knew this would be another Aamir performance like P.K. and Dhoom 3 that would drive me crazy with it’s over-the-top campiness. The fact that it sounds even more like a Jack Sparrow rip-off after reading all the reviews doesn’t help. He’s no Johnny Depp. Rahul Desai used the term “condescension” to describe Aamir’s characterization in his review…seems also pretty accurate. He’s playing to the “masses,” but they’re too smart for this kind of crap.

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        • Thinking back on the original Pirates of the Carribean, the reason Johnny Depp worked was because he wasn’t the lead. It was a story about two young lovers with pure hopes and dreams, and then Johnny Depp just sort of wandered into their story and out again. Aamir could have worked in that situation I think, if this had been Amitabh and Fatima’s story and Aamir was sprinkled in only slightly more than Katrina was in the end film. But there was just soooooooo much of Aamir in this! And so little of anything else.

          On Thu, Nov 8, 2018 at 8:50 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • Poor Anil Kapoor and Jackie Shroff and Sanjay Dutt landed in the same boat back in the 80s. Well, not Sanjay so much, he will never feel old-fashioned or new-fashioned or anything but just “sanjay”.

            On Thu, Nov 8, 2018 at 8:57 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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        • Shahrukh did Dear Zindagi too, but then that was balanced with Raees which was way too big. And JHMS which was the right size as a film, but too big in how it was positioned. And now Zero looks like he is going way way way way WAY too big! And I would have loved to see what he would do in a not “Shahrukh Khan” kind of movie with Aanand L Rai.

          And yes with Aamir. Secret Superstar was a great direction for him, his role in that was what his role should have been in Thugs, the movie is somewhere else and Aamir is just kind of flitting in and out instead of forcing himself into the center of it.

          On Thu, Nov 8, 2018 at 8:55 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  2. It’s the worst for a film if one in the audience simply can’t connect with anything/anybody shown in the movie. What I’ve read, too, was that the makers missed the chance of making Fatima’s role a meaty one, that also Katrina (who had a distinctive task in the plot) didn’t get a thorough character and that the combination or juxtaposition Amir-Amithab hadn’t enough depth.
    Grandeur (splendour) only shown on a flat screen for showing it tends to be flat, I think.

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    • It felt like none of the relationships got enough time, but then I started comparing it in my head with movies like Sholay or Deewar or Bahubali, and they didn’t have that much more time devoted to the relationships, and yet the relationships felt so much deeper. It’s not just that they were cut short, it’s that they weren’t well written.

      On Thu, Nov 8, 2018 at 3:38 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  3. There was a person on Twitter I follow (not known to be a liar) who had seen a rough cut of Thugs before the release. He had written 3-4 lines about how Aamir had held screenings and how he does it for every movie and listens to the feedback. He mentioned the movie being very bad and that people had given terrible feedback and that Aamir listened to patiently but Victor tried to argue with it and justify the things people were complaining about. Aamir’s team got his account suspended and made him delete the lines about Aamir before the account could be restored. Strange since he had not really said anything bad about him.

    Later when his account was restored and the movie already released, he mentioned that everyone’s roles were cut to emphasize Aamir. Amitabh Bachchan had refused to give any interviews, even email interviews and did not promote the film. There is almost no Thugs promotion on his Twitter timeline too. Katrina also did not post anything for Thugs’ release today. Instead she is posting pictures from the set of Zero. The feeling seems to be that the cast (besides Aamir) isn’t too happy.

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    • I think Alisa posted a link before it got pulled. Aamir came off pretty well, reasonable and considerate. Sure he made a bad movie, but he wasn’t angry about it.

      Amitabh tweeted some posters and stuff, but it was odd that he didn’t do more. Could just be that he was tired and elderly, or could be that they decided to make the film itself the centerpiece instead of more interviews, or it could be that they were less interested in promoting the movie since they had such tiny roles in it. Katrina in particular, could have just been weird scheduling since she went straight from Zero to Bharat.

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  4. Thugs is doing amazing at my local theatre; all tickets sold out. The reviews are so bad, not even avaerage.
    Gonna watch sarkar before tickets run out

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  5. Even after reading this I’m still going to see it. I’ve already bought the tickets and they were pricy, and I’m curious to see how bad it really is, but I think I’ll just tell my (unofficial) boyfriend to leave his brains behind at the door and just enjoy the visuals and the thrill being in the theatre if nothing else. Oh well, nothing united better than a bad movie we can laugh at later on anyway, unless we both decide to walk out if its too much.

    But I think another movie night to watch an actually good Aamir film in in store, Lagaan is on Netflix and that would cleanse at least for me the disappointing after effect that Thugs might bring.

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    • Oh, definitely some fun fight scenes and stuff. It just doesn’t come together in that sweeping cinematic experience you want/expect. Absolutely a fun thing to see, especially with friends!

      Lagaan would be good, similar era, much better story.

      On Fri, Nov 9, 2018 at 8:09 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • I hope we have fun! I suppose I’m just nervous because it’s going to be the first Indian film he is going to see on the big screen and I hoped it would be worth the hype. But dumb fun, big and visually entertaining is better than nothing! 😀

        If he wants to know the all in all reception of the film (twitter and reviews) then I’ll tell him, otherwise I’ll be curious to see what he thinks about it.

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        • Yeah, I’ll be going with at least one person tonight, and I think I am going to bring them in cold too, see how they feel.

          On Fri, Nov 9, 2018 at 11:19 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • He used Victor as his professional name for years, I think even when talking about this movie Aamir talked about working with “Victor”. I didn’t really think about it, that’s just how I’d always seen him referenced so it’s what I used.

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    • Well, he is also citing KRK, which is about the worst source in the world, so I will hold off on believing it until I get the actual renttrack figures.

      But a steep drop does sound predictable to me. Reminds me of Fan, YRF manipulated it enough to give a big opening day (“manipulations” including everything from casting a big name actor all the way to leaning on theaters to increase ticket prices). YRF has been doing this for years, Sultan and Tiger Zinda Hai were flops too if you look at footfalls. But the increase in theater counts, increased ticket prices, bringing in a big name and his dedicated first day fans, it all hides that a bit. Heck, this is why Ajay tried to sue them back in 2012, they were block booking JTHJ with Ek Tha Tiger to force theaters to take the less exciting film if they wanted the guaranteed hit. Adi is killer with his business practices.

      The real thing I am waiting for is the bottom to drop out of the Satellite sales market. YRF is going to make a profit no matter what through the satellite sales, which are calculated and made before the film releases. It’s the same as the Hollywood market and the overseas distribution sales. Once satellite companies either lower their prices, or start waiting until the film releases to buy it, YRF is going to have to scramble to make actual good movies, not just movies that look good in the sales packet.

      On Fri, Nov 9, 2018 at 11:24 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  6. So YRF posted the full Suraiyya song and even though I haven’t watched the movie, that song is a mess. So tedious to sit through. The song isnt even that bad but the moves they gave Katrina wasn’t fun at all. As an audience I felt tired watching it which is not what’s supposed to happen. I watch Bollywood movies to get the high energy in party songs, not feel it slowly get drained as I sit there

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    • It is such an odd song! The editing alone drives me crazy, there is no build to it. Compare it with Kajra Re for instance, where it starts with Aish doing an intro and beginning to dance, and then slowly the chorus joins in, and finally the men start singing a duet and on and on. But Surraiya, it starts at 10 and stays at 10.

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