Monday, January 25, 2010

Salman Khan's Veer: A Movie Review & The History of Pindaris

I had no great expectations when I entered the cinema hall to watch Salman Khan-starrer Veer, as most of the reviews had already trashed the movie.

After nearly 2-1/2 hrs, the film had ended but I was still sitting, dazed, in the cinema hall rather than getting up to leave the theatre. Even the Salman Khan fan sitting on my left seemed stupedified to speak.

Veer [Salman], the Pindari, who was uniting princely states to revolt against the imperialist British, had been killed soon after winning over his beloved, princess Yashodhara, from the swayamvara, and conquering her state. Yashodhara's treacherous father [Jackie Shroff] who had sided with the British had been killed.

It had taken two hours for the story to reach this stage and for the audience to get a grasp of the situation when suddenly Veer is dead, leaving the movie-goers lost and confused. Just when the lights are on, probably to conclude on a happy-ending note and ensure that audience don't return depressed--Veer's young son appears.

This young Pindari reaches the palace, riding a motorcycle while his grandparents and widowed middle-aged mother [Zarine Khan] looks on from a distance, even as credits roll on. Handling a period film is not an easy thing. But Anil Sharma, who is best remembered for his jingoistic Gadar simply failed to pull it off with Veer.

Given the historic background of Pindaris, who were demonised by British, it could have become a fascinating tale. But Sharma relied too much on Salman's rage, emotions and histrionics. The Pindari holds and folds the swords, raises horse on his hands and stops the spear with his palm.

But despite the actor's fierce persona and energy, the hero and his mission appear unconvincing. Mithun Chakravarty, who plays Veer's father, and his band of fighters are shown more like the poor depiction of tribals in the movies of late 70s and 80s.

Veer is sent to England to study and falls in love with the daughter of the Raja, whose hand was severed in the battle with Pindaris. Victorian English culture and Indian rural [or tribal] tradition keep appearing one after the other. English tunes give way to Hindustani and then to Rajasthani folk, keeping you perplexed. The songs are mediocre though the camerawork and opulence carry the move to an extent.
The basic problem is that the movie fails to engage. Though I had read Chetan Bhagat's book, still, Amir Khan's Three Idiots had kept me glued to the screen. Perhaps, another director with more historical research and passion for the subject rather than star's machismo, may have handled it better and come out with a wonderful movie.
But I must confess, it's admirable the way die-hard Salman fans even found enough to cheer themselves up in this movie. The guys who exulted in Veer's dialogue, 'jahan haath marunga, paanch ser gosht nikal lunga'. And more over for those who watched the flick and remark, 'Bhai ne kya body banayi hai'.
It was essentially a movie for these Sallu fans. I had no great expectations and so I can't say that I was disappointed. It was just another typical Bollywood movie with a concoction of songs, stunts and some sort of story.

Now it's over to the third Khan. Though not a movie-buff, I now intend to watch Shahrukh's My Name is Khan, also.

Historical Note on Pindari Warriors

 After the Mughal empire weakened, the Pindaris had emerged as a major headache for British. One recalls Amir Khan who was among the most prominent Pindari leaders and commanded a strong army of over 18,000 warriors, had been defamed as Amir Ali thug.

Amir Khan fought along side Holkars and Scindias. However, the East India Company offered him the former Tonk 'state' that was in the form of separate jagirs spread in disjointed form and situated hundreds of kilometres from each other, in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, to keep him occupied with its troubles.

He was offered Olive branch and termed Nawab. Cruelty, manipulation and statesmanship was used to deal with Pindaris in different parts of Central india. Colonel Sleeman is hailed by the British for taming the 'barbaric' Pindaris and the thugs. Karim Khan, Namdar Khan and Wasil Mohammad--the main Pindari leaders eventually surrendered while Cheetu died in the forests.

A strong army comprising over 1 lakh soldiers hunted the Pindaris and exterminated them by 1818. There was the legendary Sheikh Dullah, who disappeared and became a mysterious personality, dubbed as a bandit at times. In Central India he is recalled in folk tradition.

The 'thugee cult' that included both Muslims and Hindus, specially the latter being devotees of Kali, were termed as ruthless killers.

In his book, Martine van Woerkens suggests that it was exaggerated and perhaps a result of fear of British.

It is also termed as manifestation of the misunderstanding of the British towards Indian religious and local practices and an attempt to paint natives as barbarians. Read a study on the Pindaris as part of a research work in a US university.