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Sunday , September 27 2020

‘Thugs’ exuberantly excessive masala of swashbuckling heroics

Biggest-budgeted, most widely released B’wood production ever

Reportedly the biggest-budgeted and most widely released Bollywood production ever, “Thugs of Hindostan” is an exuberantly excessive masala of swashbuckling heroics, broader-than-broad comedy, propulsively choreographed action, and raucously caffeinated song-and-dance sequences. Writer-director Vijay Krishna Acharya, a creative force behind the popular “Dhoom” movies, has borrowed freely from Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean”, even to the point of having Indian superstar Aamir Khan often come across as a smudged carbon of Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow while playing a similarly unreliable rogue. But for all its recycled elements and predictable narrative stratagems, this diverting Diwali-timed extravaganza stands on its own merits as a lightly satisfying popcorn epic – provided, of course, you have a taste for such over-the-top amusement.

During the darkly majestic opening scenes – set in 1795, when the Indian subcontinent was known as Hindostan – Acharya provides the impetus for a tale of rebellion, revenge, and redemption as members of a royal clan are killed by British troops representing ruthless colonists of the East India Company. The sole survivor of the slaughter, a young girl named Zafira, is rescued and spirited away to safety by Khudabaksh (Amitabh Bachchan), a faithful family friend and fearsomely efficient swordsman.

Flash forward 11 years, and we find Khudabaksh and Zafira (played as an adult by Fatima Sana Shaikh) leading pirate-like freedom fighters on sporadic assaults against the Brit forces commanded by John Clive (Lloyd Owen), the man behind the murders of Zafira’s parents and brother. To neutralize this threat, second-in-command Capt James Powell (Gavin Marshall, effectively channeling a ‘60s-era Harry Andrews) hires freelance hustler and self-described “simple informant” Firangi (Khan) to infiltrate the band of “thugs” and facilitate their capture.

Profitable

Firangi, a kohl-eyed, curly-haired scamp who conceals his con artistry with ingratiating snappy patter, is an utterly amoral opportunist who rarely settles for a double-cross when a triple-cross would be more profitable, and whose concept of loyalty could most generously be described as situational. (“I value our friendship,” he tells an acquaintance who’s still stinging after Firangi’s last betrayal. “Not much, but I do value it.”) Khan’s spirited performance, which occasionally suggests Giancarlo Giannini simultaneously portraying Groucho, Chico, and Harpo Marx, is itself a sly con job: Even when Firangi appears to have changed his stripes, the audience can never be entirely sure just where his true loyalties lie. Indeed, Khan strongly hints that Firangi himself can’t predict what he’ll do, and for whom he’ll do it, from moment to moment. The character’s unpredictable behavior and long-con scheming indicates that, in addition to seeking inspiration from the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, Acharya may have watched “The Sting” a few times in preparation for this film.

Evidencing a formidable vitality that belies his age, 76-year-old Amitabh Bachchan (with, no doubt, some assistance from stunt doubles) cuts a bold yet dignified swath through the proceedings, providing just enough gravitas and moral authority to help anchor “Thugs of Hindostan” in something resembling seriousness whenever it threatens to spin entirely out of control.

Also:

LOS ANGELES: Breast cancer, gun violence, end of life – all weighty topics that many people would like to avoid, let alone watch a film about. But this year three short documentaries not only explore each difficult issue head-on, but also give audiences a new, hopeful and productive way to comprehend and cope with these distressing subjects.

HBO’s “RX: Early Detection – A Cancer Journey With Sandra Lee” follows Lee in 2015 after a routine medical check-up delivers a breast cancer diagnosis. Director Cathy Chermol Schrijver documents the television personality’s very personal nine-month cancer battle and the hardships it entailed, including a double mastectomy.

“This documentary is a tool for people who have gone through, who have it or who will have it,” says Lee, who is now cancer free. (RTRS)

“In the film you see how fast this cancer grows and how early detection is key. People need to know that and shame on me if I don’t share that.”

The film has led to positive changes. Lee’s partner, New York Gov Andrew Cuomo, recently announced the Get Screened, No Excuses initiative that improves access to breast cancer screening for New Yorkers. (RTRS)

By Joe Leydon


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