Ek Tha Tiger is an out-and-out Salman Khan film. But it's the rare well-made one. It's escapist, but it has style.
Film: Ek Tha Tiger (U/A)
Director: Kabir Khan
Cast: Salman Khan, Katrina Kaif, Ranvir Shorey
Rating: *** ½
Ek Tha Tiger (ETT) is probably Hindi cinema’s best action film yet. Conrad Palmisano, who’s been stunt co-ordinator on films like the Rush Hour series, the Robocop series, Batman Forever and Romeo Must Die, directs four brilliantly put together action set-pieces. They are all lavishly mounted, shot at breathtaking locales, and executed with skilled precision. In the midst of it all is Salman Khan, Hindi cinema’s poster boy for escapist entertainment. Thankfully, ETT is the rare Khan film that has a plot too, thin as it may be.
After having acted in some good, bad and terrible films for over two decades, Salman Khan’s Chulbul Pandey regaled masses in Dabangg, Abhinav Kashyap’s quirky take on the masala genre. This was soon after Wanted brought audiences back to single screen cinemas.
Since then, it’s been one monstrous hit after another for Khan, although the films have had little going for themselves other than the not-so-towering, bare-chested presence of the actor himself.
Most of these – Wanted first, and then Ready and Bodyguard – have been poorly written, haphazardly put together films that more or less follow a simple formula – piggyback on the ‘Bhai’ persona, and play to the gallery. ETT is similar in some ways – it’s a film that presents Salman as a larger-than-life, superhero-esque secret agent. There’s action, romance, music, all of which is infused to satiate Khan fans.
But, surprise surprise. Kabir Khan makes sure you acknowledge the director too. He banks on Khan’s stardom, no doubt, but ensures he makes a spectacle of it. “I’ll show you how to do it in style” — his film arrogantly seems to be telling other directors aiming for box office gold. There’s method to the madness, and an ingredient almost entirely missing from most other Salman films — wit.
Tiger’s a R&AW agent – the best there is. The film opens with an action sequence shot on the outskirts of Iraq. Tiger kills a bunch of agents after bumping off one of his own men, who defected to Pakistan’s ISI. Back home, he’s yearning for another mission.
He’s sent to Dublin to keep an eye on acclaimed scientist Professor Kidwai (Roshan Seth), believed to be sharing nuclear secrets with Pakistan. There, Tiger meets Zoya (Katrina Kaif) and the expected happens – the two fall in love. But the revelation of Zoya’s true identity throws things out of gear. Can a spy afford romance? And what if the lover might be the enemy?
The narrative is linear. Kabir Khan keeps the storytelling simple and the runtime short. Designed to be a two hour-long adrenaline rush, Ek Tha Tiger doesn’t pause for breath. The pre-interval portions, establishing Tiger and Zoya’s romance has some dull patches, but once the plot is established, the film moves swiftly. Rameshwar Bhagat’s editing is watertight. Aseem Mishra’s cinematography does the film’s scale justice.
Hindi cinema’s tryst with the spy genre has been scattered.
Dharmendra’s Aankhen, Jeetendra’s Farz, Mithun Chakraborthy’s Surakshaa and the Mahender Sandhu-starrer Agent Vinod all met with varied success. Sridhar Raghavan’s tongue-in-cheek take on the last one flopped just a few months ago. All of these films had ‘khufiya agents’, ‘dushman-e-mulk’ and double crossing femme fatales.
Where Ek Tha Tiger scores is the balancing act — it’s a full-blown Hindi film, with desh prem, farz and mohabbat as part of the recipe. But Kabir Khan treats the film like a stylised Hollywood actioner, never getting into graver issues but using the set-up as a tool to regale. His plot takes the characters around the world a la James Bond films, each of the locations woven cleverly into the screenplay.
A spectacular action sequence in Havana is enough to get back your money’s worth. It delights you with its choreography as much as it does with humour. Sample this: Having landed in a house inhabited by an old couple in-between a chase sequence, Tiger struggles to open the exit door to the apartment. The old man calmly gets up and opens the latch to let Tiger and Zoya out.
The film is well cast, with seasoned actors like Girish Karnad, Roshan Seth and the reliable Ranvir Shorey making up the ensemble. Khan’s in his element, even though the film strips him off some of his antics – there isn’t too much dialoguebaazi, neither is there scope for slapstick. But the usual Khanisms remain. In one scene, TigerMan halts a speeding mono rail with nothing but brute force – the scene is as believable as a shirt tearing off his muscle-rippled body, but should do the trick for his obnoxiously large number of fans. Katrina Kaif looks smoking. She’s especially sexy to watch while kicking some ass.
Ek Tha Tiger, as expected, is an out-and-out Salman Khan film. But it’s also smart and stylish — not qualities you associate with a Sallu film. Escapism isn’t always this much fun. Go watch.