When you walk into a costume drama written by Salman Khan and directed by Anil Sharma, historical accuracy, consistency and plausibility are not high on the priority list. After all, Sharma has directed films like Hukumat, Elan-e-Jung and most famously Gaddar: Ek Prem Katha, in which a lone Sunny Deol routed the Pakistani army with a handpump. What you’re looking for is an old-fashioned Hindi film brimming with tough men, beautiful women, chest-thumping dialogue and no-holds-barred melodrama.
Veer, a Manmohan Desai-meets-Gladiator epic, provides this but doesn’t weave it together with enough imagination or panache. This mega-scale love story has patches of power but mostly veers between being ridiculous and plain boring. There are moments of comedy that will have you laughing till your sides ache – it’s unintentional of course.
Heavily inspired by the 1962 Tony Curtis film Taras Bulba, Veer is set in colonial India and concerns a Rajputana tribe known as the Pindharis. These are unique warrior alcoholics. They are good at killing and drinking and have a dress sense that combines Gujarat emporium outfits with fur and seriously unkempt hair.
When the king of Madhavgarh, played by Jackie Shroff, cheats the Pindharis to please the British, the tribals swear revenge. The head Prithvi Singh, played by Mithun Chakraborty, even sends his sons Veer and Punya, played by Salman and Sohail Khan, to London for an education so they can figure out how the British mind works. Matters become complicated when Veer falls in love with the princess of Madhavgarh, played by debutant actress Zarine Khan, whom the Mumbai tabloids have uncharitably dubbed ‘F’atrina because she looks like Katrina after too many pastries.
Veer valiantly battles the wicked king and the British and even manages to kick-start the Indian independence movement.
The best thing about Veer is that it is comic book cinema no pretensions. Without a trace of embarrassment or apology, Sharma goes full throttle on speeches to the motherland, honour, mardangi. And as Manmohan Desai told us decades ago: Mard ko dard nahin hota, so Veer snarls and slices through men without pausing for breath.
At one point, he pulls out a man’s intestines with his bare hands. To win the princess, he even participates in a strange swayamvar that has him jousting with a gigantic British man in a gladiator-style combat.
It’s basically Salman’s blockbuster Wanted set in a historical twilight zone. Very little of Veer makes sense but the lack of logic isn’t the problem here. Boredom is.
Both Sharma and Salman bring an astounding degree of conviction to the project. Both have worked very hard to give it scale and heft. Salman with flared nostrils and angry eyes channels Dharmendra from Sharma’s earlier films.
Salman’s supersized presence lifts the silliest scenes. But eventually, even his ripped muscles sag under the weight of this bloated epic.
Running at over two and a half hours, Veer just goes on and on. It seems like an endless montage of battles and blood. There is enough jewellery in this film to fund a few others.
The king of bling is the Madhavgarh despot who after his hand gets cut off, replaces it with a shiny gold limb and even remembers to put a diamond bracelet on it. In one of the film’s superbly ridiculous moments, Veer shakes this golden hand and yanks it off.
The film has many such moments that are so over the top that words cannot convey their full comic impact. If like me, you can find delight in the sheer delirium of a bad Bollywood film, then see Veer, otherwise do catch it on DVD. In a few years, this sensibility and swagger will be extinct. (NDTV)