Thugged by Thugs of Hindostaan

Aamir Khan as Firangi Mallah, a small-time Thug from Awadh (Video grab from Official Trailer)

Ibrahim Hafeezur Rehman

When one ventured out to see this film the obvious expectation was to look for many thugs as the title suggested. So, while seeing the film one wondered about the use of plural in the title as the story (if there was any) was focused on singular Thuggery of East India Company about which there is no question or confusion. However, by the time the film ended you realize that the title is very apt as besides the British there were many more desi thugs involved who had done a “Firangi” and duped the audience.

Amitabh Bachchan in a scene of the film (Video grab from Official Trailer)

There is no point in going deeper or further into the shortcomings of the film. However, there are some lessons that can be drawn, a few on the creative side, and some on the commercial aspects of cinema. On the creative side it is becoming clear that audience has become more discerning and values content over hype. Of course, hype, hoopla and a jaw dropping star cast can get you smashing box office figures on day 1 when unsuspecting and high on adrenaline audience line up the theatres. Alas! It still cannot give you the satisfaction of either making a commercially successful product or duping large numbers to see the film. First, it is clear that a good fresh story and a gripping screenplay are a pre-requisite as sans these two even powerful or hot actors cannot help bring audience to the theatres. Second, direction is not about gimmickry of so called commercial ingredient mixing such as; titillating dances with raunchy lyrics; lifting not only ideas but complete frames or sequences out of successful Hollywood ventures; patching together grandiose sets or past scenes/references; stitching together a cast of name and fame; etc. Given the improvement in content and constantly evolving tastes in recent years more and more audience expect the Director to provide a product that is seamlessly woven and played out by a strong cast that dissolves into the characters being portrayed. For in yesteryears it was only exceptional talents such as Manmohan Desai who had the ability to weave an incredibly incomprehensible stuff into a credible and wholesome entertainment masala.

Fatima Sana Sheikh in a scene of the film (Video grab from Official Trailer)

There is also a lesson that a hugely competent producer (one film brilliant director as well) is not necessarily an equally good actor. To that end it is important to  focus on one’s strengths (sense of good cinema; ability to identify/support novel projects; creative sense and wherewithal to put together a good product; etc.). This brings forth an important point that an average performance in a competently handled product can move towards brilliance (Dangal) while on the other hand a bad or ill-conceived content can expose the shortcomings of even brilliant performers. Amir Khan who is brilliant, brave and hugely creative in not one but several aspects of cinema had his average acting talent badly exposed or handled in this magnum opus.

Raunchiness and skin show has not worked for anybody for dances need to have a purpose and for even cabaret numbers some amount of aesthetics or grace (remember Yeh Mera Dill..) is desirable. It is senseless to exploit the beauty of womanhood bringing it down to crass levels for no reason at all. To expect that every –Sheila Ki Jawani – type number will woo the audience is not only an insult to them but a disgrace to womanhood as well.

Katrina Kaif in an item number (Video grab from official trailer)

Last but not the least high levels of expenditure, mega sets, grandiose presentation coupled with mega marketing devoid of basic material can only produce a stilted and jerky grand enterprise. Brand and hype based marketing can only help you traverse a short distance and when it fails for obvious reasons the fall and hurt is much more pronounced when compared to an ordinary venture. YRF and Aditya Chopra who have been leaders and promoters of many a good cinema will hopefully take the necessary lessons from this debacle. For there cannot be an iota of doubt on the talents that had come together for this misadventure and one can only blame the issue of law of averages catching up with even the most brilliant. Hope Adi, YRF, AK and AB will continue to evolve and take to greater heights the ABCD and grammar of cinema of which they are past masters.

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