Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: With Jessica Hausner’s peculiar period piece Amour Fou coming to theaters, we extend our hand to other 19th-century romances.
In 2009, Salman Khan, one of the biggest movie stars in India (and thus the world, given the reach of the Bollywood industry) scored an enormous hit after something of a fallow period, and was suddenly in the position of having a blank check to cash on any project he wanted. What he chose to make was Veer, a florid, violent, romantic period melodrama that’s either the best kind of movie-star vanity project, the worst, or a little of both.
Time is confusing in Veer. The film opens in 1920 and then flashes back to 1865, when apparently the title character is born, then jumps ahead to his early teen years. Then, suddenly, he’s an adult outlaw (Khan, then in his mid-40s but playing a young man of university age) who falls in instant, thunderstruck love with a princess (Zarine Khan, no relation) whose father is Veer’s sworn enemy, a puppet king who had thousands of the hero’s people killed to appease the occupying British. Neither has any idea at first; Veer steals a brooch from the princess while robbing a train she just happens to be on, but gives it back because—as indicated by a series of smoldering close-ups—he is smitten.
The next phase of their romance, in which they discover each other’s true identities, takes place in a wildly anachronistic England (late 1920s-model cars are very conspicuously part of the background in a street scene, despite it being roughly the late 1880s/early 1890s), which appears to be a deliberate choice heightening the unreality of that which is not India. So, too, does the romantic business, which incorporates a style of theatricality always just on the brink of breaking the fourth wall.
Finally, Veer returns to India for the climactic showdown with his beloved’s father (Jackie Shroff, who sports both a robust mustache and an artificial golden hand replacing the one Veer’s father cut off), as well as the entire British army. Lest this seem as though the entire plot of the film has been recounted, the events described are less than half the story, and in any case, Veer is a movie that has to be seen to be believed.
Zarine Khan may not be the most gifted co-star Salman Khan has acted against, but she works well in the role. The particular chaste nature of the romance—a stock-in-trade of Bollywood cinema—makes for an interesting parallel with the more violent elements: This is a story set in Victorian times whose thoughts on the British consist mostly of whether it is better to decapitate them first and then drink their blood or vice versa. (The good guys actually debate this at one point.) Indian critics largely hated Veer, and it’s regarded as something of a white elephant among Bollywood fans, but there’s something fascinatingly personal about how deeply Salman Khan commits to, and legitimately loves, the popular cinema and all its tropes. Considering what a personal project Veer was for him, the commitment here was even deeper than usual.
Availability: Veer is available on Blu-ray and DVD through Netflix, Amazon, and possibly your local video store/library.