Reviewing a Salman Khan film is like ironing a pair of jeans: really, what’s the point. People will watch it anyway. Filmmakers know this. Having signed up the super-star, they’re left to do precious little besides cash in on the supposed ‘Sal-mania’. The character isn’t important. The audience believes Salman is a character himself. They react to him. They know, in this case, Katrina Kaif is his ex-girlfriend. She talks about him not being married yet. Audience laughs. Any rubbish remake (Bodyguard, Ready) could have sufficed. Ek Tha Tiger, directed by Kabir Khan (Kabul Express, New York) in that sense, is an immensely worthy exception.
For one, the sensible, sorted director’s ensured the film has a script. Though only Aditya Chopra (Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, Rab Ne Banadi Jodi), the credited story writer, could be behind a deeply romantic idea of two secret service agents of rival countries falling desperately in love. One’s from the ISI (Pakistan’s Inter-services Intelligence), the other from RAW (India’s Research And Analysis wing). The heroine looks comfortable in her skin, is gorgeous. The hero is well, after all, the hero. Both, dressed well, profess love under the backdrop of three striking cities: Dublin, Istanbul and Havana. Locations are lovely. Cross-border romance is compelling enough. Chemistry works. You can tell Yashraj, the producers of this film, are trying to merge some of their non-resident South Asian audiences abroad, with Salman Khan’s “single screen” viewers back in India. Neither might be disappointed.
Salman plays a RAW agent code-named Tiger. For 12 years, he’s gone without leave, from one international assignment to another. Gopi (Ranvir Sheorey) is his assistant, named no doubt after Mithun Chakroborty’s Gun Master G9 (Suraksha, Wardaat)! Both spies get sent over to Dublin to trail an Indian missile scientist, who’s now a University professor (Roshan Seth, unlikely casting for a Salman flick). A young girl (Katrina Kaif), it’s hard to tell whether she’s just another student or related to the scientist, usually hangs out in his house. The scientist could be passing on national secrets to the ISI. But you don’t know that yet. Or you do. What did you think? While the scientist character entirely disappears from the screen, Salman, being followed by various other agents in Ireland, like before in Iraq, and later in Cuba, cuts to the chase: running over a tram as it collides against a mini-truck, or sliding down a staircase on a ledge, shooting with two guns at the same time. Local police usually look on!
The trouble with over-promoted pictures is their best portions get stale by repetition in trailers. You would’ve seen some of the film’s best action scenes already. But that is to take away nothing from the effort that may have gone into putting these stunning sequences together. Hollywood achieves similar results with over 10 times the budget. In a departure from earlier Salman pictures, the heroine gets her fair share of jumping off buildings, flying planes, and knocking a punch or two.
The girl, it turns out, is an ISI agent. “Of over 200 countries in the world, Tiger had to fall in love with a Pakistani,” laments the RAW chief (Girish Karnad). Certainly this is beyond his call of duty. The government would go after Tiger of course. The mechanics of how the RAW operates is treated with fair realism. The ISI gets a bad name globally. From all accounts, given the kind of undisclosed money spent on Indian intelligence agencies (it could run into trillions), India is no Gandhian, soft state either.
Neither of the lead characters plays traitor to their government. They’re merely in love. You know love will eventually win. And of course you knew Salman Khan will win. At the time of writing this review, it’s hard to estimate the film’s box-office receipts. Yet, never in my recent memory have I stood in a long line, all the way outside a mall, trying to get into a packed multiplex, with a ticket bought in advance, for a 9 am show! And this is only Independence Day. Eid is yet to come. There is still a whole weekend to go. As they say, “Jab khuda mehrbaan….” Well, I would rather not finish that sentence. At least this Salman film was worth it. For the first time since Chulbul Pandey (Dabangg), the actor’s played a character, which to begin with is saying a lot.
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