Bare hands yanking out spleen, a clumsy slash of the sword, disembodied hands and heads spouting blood like colour from a spray pump; and then the loud, chest-thumping jubilation— machismo has never been as sloppy and obscene as Salman Khan and his henchmen make it in Veer.
If you have the taste for it, graphic violence can be mesmerizingly disturbing, even a thing of beauty, as in some of Quentin Tarantino’s films.
But here, the details of violence unfold like the special effects of a video game.
Directed by Anil Sharma— who had directed the enormously successful blockbuster Gadar (2001)—and written by Khan himself, Veer is a period drama about the Pindaris. Historically a tribe of violent marauders, the Pindaris became plunderers after generations of them became victims of feudal lords, government officials and landlords in 19th century colonial India. Later, they became auxiliary armies of the Marathas. The film is true to historical facts; it’s the fiction that mars it.
Epic blunder: Salman Khan should stick to flexing his muscles in comedies.
Veer looks like a film made on a grand scale—there are battlefield scenes, undulating desert landscapes and royal mansions. Sadly, that’s just a trick. Most of the big scenes are computer-generated. There’s not a single wide shot of a battlefield that has been actually filmed by the makers. I am a sucker for the grand scale, when it is done with beauty and heart; nothing can translate the magic of cinema as beautifully as a sweeping wide frame where something substantial is happening. Here it all seems robotic, remote-controlled and fake.
Veer, the hero, played by Khan, is the son of a Pindari chieftain (Mithun Chakraborty) who, long ago, cut off the hand of the maharaja (Jackie Shroff) of the neighbouring Rajputana kingdom Madhavgarh, a British ally. The eponymous hero is the Pindari heir, educated in London’s Trinity College and taught in the tribe’s ways—some of which are outrageously primal. Veer has been wrestling, sword-fighting and making all kinds of howls and bellows sound heroic ever since he was a child. The father has been fighting the son since he was a young boy—Veer’s head plunging straight into his father’s groin, in an attempt to topple him.
Like the Romans, the Pindaris drink spirits out of thick, oversized wooden mugs and mothers, fathers and sons break into raunchy dances when a new warrior is coronated (Neena Gupta, playing the gyrating mother, was an eyesore). In London, Veer pursues the woman he has fallen in love with, the princess of Madhavgarh (Yashodhara, played by debutante Zarine Khan). But other things happen in Trinity College. Veer and his brother (Sohail Khan, a clown who follows Veer everywhere he goes) are pigeonholed in a class where ignorant African tribals and Indians are being enlightened by Western education. In a moment of mouth-quivering anger, the young Pindari quotes George Bernard Shaw in response to the English teacher’s caricatured, racist introductory speech to the class. This is an example of bad writing at its most revolting; you’ll have to hear it to believe it.
Anyway, the battle to win Yashodhara snowballs into a battle between colonizers and natives, love and hatred, landowners and land-grabbers, raw power and weapons, and good and evil.
In an interview prior to the release of his last film Wanted (2009), Khan said he had decided to do his films his way, not the director’s way.
Here, he takes that conviction forward. In every sense, he runs amok—if grunts, furrowed eyebrows, muscle-flexing and other such apeman-like stunts make a movie star, we’d rather not suffer one. He refuses to evolve and adapt, perhaps taking comfort in the fact that he is a star with great mass appeal. Khan is what he was in Wanted; Veer is Wanted packaged as a “period epic”.
Zarine Khan plays a princess torn between duty towards her kingdom and love for an enemy. She is groomed in a way that is supposed to lend her a delicate, ethereal sensuality, but she is dry, dull and painfully stiff—a terrible case of comatose acting.
Chakraborty and Shroff, in two important roles, are victims of bad writing and characterization. Shroff’s job is harder because he is a man with an artificial, shining gold hand, ornamented with baubles. Every time he extends it for a handshake, he is reminded of the Pindari goon who had cut his hand off, and it stokes his fire for revenge. I joined many others in the audience in uproarious laughter every time the bling apparatus was in the frame.
The script of Veer is inherently ambitious. There are many big themes here—nationality, colonial oppression, land laws. But it is so sloppily executed and so poorly acted out that the film leaves you annoyed and exhausted with all its sound and fury.
Salman Khan should give himself a break from gore and return to comedies. When he intends to make us laugh, he is far better.
Veer released in theatres on Friday.