How should one review a Salman Khan film? Should one simply ring the bell of the temple of Goddess Lakshmi, do shat-shat pranam to the god of box-office, and try to analyse what is contributing to his exceptional opening-day collections (Rs 32 crore-plus this time around)?
Should one deliberate on the clever timing of the film’s release — Ek Tha Tiger rides on two national holidays — in times when the fate of films is decided in the first week itself? Or should one draw up a bar chart and compare this movie’s collections with Salman Khan’s previous ones, and then compare them with the dwarfing bars of the other Khans?
Or should one focus on the film at hand, its story, Salman Khan’s acting, the role he has chosen this time and the direction — was the director able to get Salman to do something new, something different? That sounds right, ethical, but then why does it feel so facile?
Since Ready, and then Bodyguard, I’ve been feeling disconnected. Not just with Salman Khan’s films, but the craziness around them. So I decided to risk my limbs and eardrums and watch first day-first show at Delhi’s best cinema hall — Delite in Darya Ganj (Rs 125 for balcony, proper). This cinema hall, which opened in 1954, stands in the virabhadrasana just after the no man’s land that separates Old from New Delhi.
It has two halls — the 980-seater Delite main, and the tiny gem appropriately named Delite Diamond. Both have glistening brass railings and cola-holders. There is a hand-crafted blue dome, chandeliers from the Czech Republic, while the loos have Italian marble and Spanish tiles. It is routinely sprayed with rose water, and serves the meanest samosa in town. In all, this shiny, garish hall is a homage to both Delhis, but Old Delhi’s charm claims it as its own.
The cinema hall’s affable general manager, R.K. Mehrotra, had kept my tickets, safe from the marauding crowds that were beating at all the doors to the hall. Two boys, holding the next day’s tickets, had slipped in and were demanding to watch the film “now”. There were loud arguments, someone got slapped, the furniture started moving, one burly man was trying to hold down the two agitated boys when an old, frail guard was summoned. More shouting, some more thrashing and in this craziness someone nicked my wallet.
But it was all worth it. Because Delite is a Salman Khan fan magnet, and my plan was to roll in the Salman Khan frenzy and see how quickly, badly I catch the flu. I got the sniffles, nothing more.
Whistles began when Salman Khan’s name appeared on the screen, and then Salman Khan made a slo-mo, dramatic entrance, giving his fans enough time to drool, shout and calm down.
Ek Tha Tiger’s story is simple. Beta Aditya, drawing from papa Yash’s well of angst and emotions about Partition, the same well where Veer Zaara bobs up and down, has concocted a tale that involves two dushman spies and their bemused handlers.
Tiger (Salman Khan) is a Research & Analysis Wing (RAW) agent, a spy who has the reputation of an exterminator. A long, impressive chase in sun-baked Mardin, Turkey, establishes his credentials — shooting with both hands, Tiger gets his guy; no one gets to him.
Mission accomplished, he returns to RAW headquarters in Delhi where his boss, Shenoy (Girish Karnad), tells us about Agent Tiger’s dedication — he has been going from one assignment to the other without a break for 12 years — and parsimony. Tiger is a good guy. He doesn’t spend his salary, likes to cook, drinks milk and doesn’t visit item girls. Not even his own bhabhiji.
Tiger’s next assignment is in Ireland where he has to keep tabs on Prof. Anwar Jamal Kidwai (Roshan Seth), a nuclear scientist who teaches at Dublin’s Trinity College and may be passing on secret stuff to the Pakistanis.
The genius, hence eccentric, professor cycles to college, is devoted to his pug, Rocket, and isn’t interested in talking to Manish Chandra — Agent Tiger’s new disguise is of a writer who is working on a book on the finest Indian minds.
Helpfully, the professor’s cleaning lady turns out to be an attractive desi. Zoya (Katrina Kaif), who does some theatre-dance stuff, offers Manish a room at her hostel, her pleasant company and buddy banter.
The film now takes a different route from the one we’ve come to expect of Salman’s films. Tiger goes romantic, even acknowledging that that’s a new avatar for him.
His agent friend Gopi (Ranvir Shorey) warns him, but Tiger keeps saying, “Mission ke liye Zoya ko patana bahut zaroori hai.” Dates follow, taaron ke chaon mein, and gifts, and then he tries to kiss her. But all is not what it seems.
After some bizarre stunts through the streets of Dublin, Tiger figures that Zoya is an ISI agent. He returns home wilted, asks for a desk job and is just about settling in when a coded message invites him to a UN meeting in Istanbul.
The Indian and Pakistani delegates meet, and so do Zoya and Tiger. Tiger doesn’t take a second to drop farz in favour of love, all the while poking at the stupidity of the Bharat-Pakistan spy games and how similarly idiotic both sides are.
Tiger is not a spy devoted to his desh; he is a lover boy eager to give up call of duty for a cute booty. And Ek Tha Tiger is not a spy thriller, but a romantic, scenic twirl around the world.
The gaffes in Ek Tha Tiger’s spy games are hysterical. For example, Zoya, an undercover spy, uses her real name on assignments and while hiding from two sets of spies, gives ballet classes in Cuba; Indians and Pakistani spies are on howdy terms, yet they talk constantly of compromising their identities. But all this must be ignored. While Ek Tha Tiger is firmly in the zone of make-believe, it doesn’t seem outlandish. That’s partly because of our Bollywood training, but mostly because of Salman Khan. It’s a measure of a star’s power when many of the jokes in the film are on his personal life, and these jokes draw the loudest whistles and cheers. So obviously, Salman Khan doesn’t need to act. He just needs to charm the pajamas off all the ladies and gents in the audience, which he does. He adds his two-bit bluster and jokes to mundane scenes and makes them whistle-worthy, and ever so often makes direct eye contact with each and every member of the audience.
Kabir Khan, who made the middling New York, tries to add a touch of class to Salman Khan’s character and the film through slick action sequences, gorgeous locations, exciting background score (by Julius Packiam) and while allowing Salman one peeing scene, stays away from the usual Salman stuff. There is no climatic shirt-ripping body combat. In fact, there’s little body combat in Ek Tha Tiger — the stunts here are in the Akshay Kumar-James Bond style, with guns, fancy car, smarts, quick feet and long chases — because Tiger harbours no gussa, no purani dushmani.
Katrina Kaif is gorgeous. She is jannat ki pari; the princess who gets a rash from a pea. Though Missy Khufia Agent gets a lithe body double to scamper up floors, jump from buildings and smack a few bad guys, we are under the spell of her unreal beauty, broken only when she tries to “act”. But why waste time and energy trying to act when we can simply admire your perfect skin, your concave abdomen and your dewy eyes and lips? Don’t na, baby. Just stand there limply, or potter around doing gharelu, girly things. Salman likes that, and so do we.