Monday, 12 November 2018

Thugs of Hindostan Review

So Thugs of Hindostan? Have you watched it? Did you like it? You know, I had placed this movie as one my most anticipated movies of 2018.

But I had a specific reason for the interest in the movie, because it was the idea that the movie was based on the Thuggee cult of India. A topic that has been documented by the British but largely ignored in the Indian History. The Thuggee cult had become so notorious especially during the 19th Century that the British Raj and especially the then Governer General Lord William Bentinck had to create harsh laws to capture the Thuggees and to put an end to the cult.

And Aamir Khan had been reported to play Ameer Ali, a portrayal of a real thuggee as documented in the novel Confessions of a Thug by Philip Meadows Taylor. I mean who other than Aamir Khan to play this larger than life character? A man who is not shy to portray a farmer, an aging father, and even a darker character in movies like The Earth 1947.  And since he always seems to have his finger on the pulse of the nation's youth, we were not surprised that he had chosen such an offbeat topic for his next big budget movie. The looks of the movie had gone viral. Many of us read the novel Confessions of a Thug for the first time and we waited for Aamir to deliver.

Big budget, that is what offset the movie... Because then they chose the director of Dhoom 3 to helm this project. The movie went through script changes and was repackaged as an action movie, with a lot of unnecessary CGI. Had the success of Baahubali derailed the initial setup of this film, we will never know? At least that is what the Formula reveals, Aamir Khan + patriotism + Amitabh, how could it go wrong? Well, it wouldn't have if this was the 80s? But times have changed? If numbers were a concern whatever happened to Dangal style realistic storytelling? A simple public survey would have saved this movie. The Indian audience is changing, they anticipate good stories now, not stars, not filmy dialogues and there is no formula to engage such an audience. Yes it worked for Dabbang because Salman has his audience. But Aamir should have known better, after all he is known for breaking the formula moulds. He should have known that India is at cusp of things and is ready, even if partially to listen to its non-flattering stories. And the Thuggee cult was an extraordinary story to begin with. It was an unusual cult that united the Hindus and Muslims like no other movement could, not even the freedom movement!

What a monumental waste this opportunity was? Especially as a narrative!

The Ameer Ali that we had been promised during the movie's initial promotion becomes Firangi Malla, a caricaturish goon who panders to the ultimate supervillain of Indian cinema, the British, in this case called John Clive, as an actor who seems always hesitant to play the part, not surprising. The girls, Katrina and Fatima are mere accessories in action, nothing more.

The last time Aamir made a movie on nationalism, he managed to rekindle the love for freedom fighters such as Bhagat Singh in the youth. Names such Ram Prasad Bismil, Sukhdev, Rajguru, Ashfaqullah Khan, and Chandrashekhar Azad whose sacrifices had become a mere footnote to some other prominent leaders, Rang De managed to bring them to public memory and the stories such as that of Kakoris "Conspiracy", which were never told in history books filled the youth with pride as they realised the unique ways these young leaders had found to rebel. All these thoughts were running in mind as I got ready to watch the Thugs of Hindostan. How these heroes knew how to speak the language of the bully whether it was English or the language of firearms!

But these were heroes, an easy part for a Bollywood actor who has forever played the heroic and the righteous. But Aamir Ali would have been interesting, he was heroic but not righteous. But that is the fun, to tell the story of the other side. You could have told how the Thuggees thought they were doing the Goddess Kali's will, that they were extracting revenge from a society that had wronged them. Sure the hero would have been flawed but he would have been interesting.

Not to mention we would have found a way to embrace more negative aspects of our national narrative, which is the need of the hour, as we are relearning that old Indian habit of cloaking the negative aspects of our society, to portray them as positive.

I am certain this movie is going to be a hit, but this movie could have been many things, and it is our loss that it could not become all that it could have become.

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