Ek Tha Tiger – the Rise of the Rathore’s

The much-anticipated movie of the year. All Salman Khan loyalists made a beeline for the theatres on the 15th August, so much so that every show was sold-out.

The story starts out fine enough. Salman Khan is of course, Tiger, and is a RAW agent who spends more time in exotic locales like Turkey, Ireland, Cuba and what-have-you, rather than on home ground. He happens to fall in love with Katrina Kaif, who is an ISI agent. Obviously, the twain can never unite, so they jet back to their own countries for a breather before linking up again in Istanbul on some global peace summit. Out here, while twirling Zoya (Katrina) around the dance floor, Tiger whispers sweet nothings in her ear, which basically translate into “the ball’s in your court, baby.” The audience is then led to believe that Zoya had only been pretending to love Tiger and fully intended to hand him over to her ISI colleagues but then, in a bizarre script – and get-up – twist at the airport, true love prevails and they run away together, far far from the madding crowd of gun-toting agents, which takes them to Cuba.

Phew! I sure don’t know what happened to Kabir Khan here. The guy who gave us the well-knit ‘Kabul Express’ and slick, taut ‘New York’ has pretty much gone south with this one. The story – or lack of it – has boggled my mind so much that it remains boggled long after I’ve returned home.  As a writer myself, I need a good tale to sink my teeth into else, you’ve lost me well before the belly dance! Can either of these two Khans (Salman and Kabir) explain why it is that Tiger, who is this sharp, well trained agent who is watching a boxing match but instantly catches on that he, in turn, is being watched by the cops; who has read enough crime thrillers to know that the first thing someone on the lam does is get himself a fake passport and withdraw lotsa moolah from the bank, but – he does nada to change his appearance?! Did anyone hear of coloured contact lenses and hair dye?? So why can’t this swirling, twirling macho spy, who bashes in goons heads with pizzazz and panache, not bash in a CCTV camera that’s caught his antics? Huh? Tell, tell, why, why? Because then the whole plot will collapse like a clumsily built house of cards, that’s why. Also, how is it that we have this one really astute, brilliant chappie, but the entire Indian intelligence agency in the form of RAW is predictably depicted as this bumbling mass, where collective brains come up with the data that Zoya is a British girl of Indian origin who looks after the professor’s house. How did they surmise she is Indian? Dark hair and dark eyes? So now Pakistanis are blonde and blue-eyed? And ISI intercepts just know that Zee TV is gonna be covering a global summit and wonder if Doordarshan is tagging along? Oh, spare me! Kabir, Kabir, wherefore art thou Kabir? Did commercial cinema addle your brains too?

Zero chemistry between the lead pair does nothing to alter the equation. Salman is almost somnabulic in the first hour, notwithstanding the chase sequence that opens the movie. His lethargy visibly vanishes with Sukhwinder Singh’s foot tapping ‘Banjara’ number; the old Salman is back, with that impeccable sense of rhythm. A restrained performance alright, but the feeble jokes fall flat. He looks dashing and dapper in his formal suits, although that head of hair looks suspiciously full! Katrina is slim and svelte, very pretty, but none of the spark and sizzle of ‘Singh is King.’ By the by. Is it just me who noticed that her lips are suddenly way too swollen and puffed up – is there a magic wand (needle) at work here?

The film’s promos tout it as showcasing Ireland. Sadly, there is isn’t much of this astonishingly lovely country to be seen, barring Dublin’s Trinity College and Temple Street. Aseem Mishra has done justice to Cuba’s spectacular locales in the little time and space he had, but he could have surely done a better job with Ireland and bewitching Istanbul. The souk (bazaar) has been well captured, but precious little else.

Action. The film is more about action than story or chemistry. Although there are some sequences that sorely tax my brain, the tram fight scene on Dublin’s Temple Street has been superbly shot. It must have cost an arm and a leg and then some, to shoot here on the main street! So also the road chase in Cuba. Conrad Palmisano as action director deserves a special pat on the back; it must be said he had a most able student in Salman. This film is supposed to be among Katrina’s first action films; whatever, she is not believable. If this was about Jane meeting James Bond, it failed to impress. Aishwarya handled action much better in Dhoom.

I feel Ranvir Sheorey is wasted in this movie; his potential has not been tapped at all. Girish Karnad as Tiger’s boss looks and acts tired. Very pedantic dialogue delivery, apart from which, he’s hardly spy material!

The music is way too average, coming from a Yash Raj banner. So – I believe the story is by Aditya Chopra, who has also produced the movie. Sigh. Is Yash Chopra cringing yet? Perhaps it’s time for Daddy-O to be back at the helm of affairs. It may have been a clever gimmick to release a film mid-week on account of Independence Day and clinch it by having a romance between RAW and ISI agents, but are gimmicks, fantastic overseas locales and superb action quite enough to make a movie worth watching? It’s the narrative that’s gotta excite.

Oh, ah. In case you’re wondering about the header of this review. Well – Akshay made the Rathore clan famous with Rowdy Rathore, and now it’s Salman’s turn – believe it or faint, but Tiger’s actual name is Avinash Singh Rathore! The Rathore’s may well be doing a celebration jig somewhere, but that sure ain’t gonna guarantee butts on the seats, or keep ‘em cash registers jingling. It’s not Singh or Rathore – it’s the story that’s king!

*This review is written exclusively for The Film Writers Association of India.

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