One of the curious things about watching a Hindi film here, is how you get to see the censor certificate before the show begins, with signatories of approval as well as something which I like to spot – the physical length of the film measured in feet, over X number of projected reels. For Veer, this marks the first time I see the censors being quite upfront about the amount of snips down to the movie, which amounted to some 10 ft worth of film. At least you'd come to expect that the film was cut, and here it's for the gratuitous violence which unfortunately had the more gory bits left on the cutting room floor.
Salman Khan follows up on the disappointment of last year's London Dreams with this effort directed by Anil Sharma, responsible for what's arguably India's largest film Gadar: Ek Prem Katha. Unfortunately for what Veer had promised to be one heck of an epic set in a time of tumultuous India with factions battling it out for land, and the invasion of the British by virtue of alliances with Indian kings craving that upper hand in military logistics, not knowing that they're being nothing but slowly colonized by their British masters.
As the story goes, Salman Khan plays Veer, a Pindari general's child whose clansman were massacred through a betrayal by Madhavgarh King Gyanendra (Jackie Shroff). Fearsome in battle and men of their word, the warrior clan Pindaris are not taking this lying down, and have scattered with a vow to one day exact their vengeance against King Gyanendra. The first child born during their exile, Veer gets taught the ways of the warrior kind, before being sent to London with his brother Punya (Sohail Khan) in order to learn the ways of the Britishers (yeah) and especially their cunning minds, one small step toward their goal of overthrowing the Madhavgarh king through the exploiting of his backer's weaknesses and to circumvent their strategy of divide and conquer over India.
Alas Veer has to fall in love in typical Bollywood fashion, and what more in true Romeo and Juliet style. In fact, most of the film adopts this epic love story, which becomes centerstage for Veer's romance, and plot against his father's and people's common enemy. Like the fabled line from Shakespeare's tragedy “too early seen unknown, and known too late”, he and Princess Yashod (Zarine Khan, a fleshier dead ringer for Katrina Kaif) realize the enormous obstacles lying in front of them, and have to choose whether to fulfill personal desires, that of their father's (in crushing the other side), while shouldering the weight of their people's welfare as well whether to fight another bloody war, or to kowtow to the British who are pompously throwing their weight around.
While I didn't appreciate much of the token battle and action sequence in the first half, and even Veer's attack of a train for treasure and the love at first sight encounter with Yashod, the narrative was kept tight in the setting of the premise until you realize it's a love story after all, with Veer being a rather smart Romeo in trying to kill multiple birds with a single stone. The scenes in London where both Veer and Punya enrol in a college, and reconnect with Yashod again, was something out of a high school romance with plenty of song and dance to go around so much that it actually gets boring no thanks to the repetitive romantic theme played until ad nauseam , until two tragic turn of events set the stage for a cliffhanger just before the interval. It is in this section that Sohail Khan shines as Punya, used mostly for comic relief and then fading away as an underdeveloped character despite some glimpses of a fearsome warrior in the making.
The second half after the interval somehow imploded through its lost sense of direction, and the muddled development of plotting for revenge, fulfillment of promises, and the battling for the hand of Yashod all seemed too scattered. For all the sweeping motion of battle horses and foot soldiers clashing in battle, there was a distinct lack of big battle sequences which are obligatory for a sword and sandals film, and in its place you got a hokey joust with a muscular Caucasian, as well as an emotionally empty father versus son tirade. You cannot deny that Salman Khan tried hard, but it came across as trying too hard yet again, made worst by his display of only two emotions in the entire film – lovelorn and rage, which for some inexplicable reason the latter facial display comes with complete with some cheesy lion-roar effect to accentuate his angry mood.
India has its fair share of contemporary epics set in its period days, and two excellent films which I have watched come to mind in Lagaan and Jodhaa Akbar (incidentally both directed by Ashutosh Gowariker). Unfortunately Veer doesn't even come close to matching the standards set by those two in terms of story, action and songs even. You can see glimpses of what Veer had tried to do, but it lacked focus and was poor in delivery, and the final, cheesy and needless scene just drove the final nail into the film's coffin. I'm also sad to say that of the 3 Khans of Bollywood, Salman has yet to impress me with this choice of projects to star in.