The past tense may not be entirely unintentional. Ek Tha Tiger is a reminder that films like Ready and Bodyguard, super successes despite being spectacularly vacuous, were necessary aberrations in the career of Salman ‘Dabangg’ Khan. He needed those films to woo his constituency and win it over so completely that he could attempt an Ek Tha Tiger without jeopardizing the producer’s investment.
Co-writer and director Kabir Khan’s third film demonstrates that Bollywood’s most bankable actor can pull off a more screenplay-driven variety of commercial cinema as well.
Salman, whose acting career has over the years embraced the good, bad and ugly with equal zeal, is now at a juncture of his professional life where he cannot afford to slip up. Huge amounts of money ride on his films and he is, therefore, expected to stay firmly within a set image pattern dictated by the box office.
In that context, Ek Tha Tiger is a daring departure from the norm. The film and the superstar are none the worse for it.
Well, by no stretch of the imagination is Ek Tha Tiger a realistic film about the secret agents of India and Pakistan nor are the actions and motivations of the principal characters – the spy-hero (Salman), his lady love (Katrina Kaif), his no-nonsense boss (Girish Karnad) and a trusted aide and fellow agent (Ranvir Shorey) – strictly governed by behavioural logic.
Ek Tha Tiger is essentially an escapist entertainer that glosses over the complexities of the lives of spies who come in from the cold. Yet, thanks to an uncluttered screenplay (co-written by Neelesh Misra) that stays focused on its narrative core, the film offsets the thinness of the plot to deliver a generally convincing action-packed thriller.
By all indications, Ek Tha Tiger is bound to add another firm brick to Salman’s imposing edifice of blockbusters.
Ek Tha Tiger has four superbly staged action sequences that accentuate the superhero attributes of the eponymous RAW agent, who is the Indian spy agency’s most treasured operations man. But the treatment of the storyline, for whatever it is worth, is even-keeled and bereft of the cheap thrills that a Salman Khan starrer usually brims over with.
Ek Tha Tiger is a Yash Raj Films (YRF) production. So it is essentially a love story masquerading as an espionage thriller. But it mercifully goes nowhere near Switzerland, or any of the standard YRF locales. Shot on locations in northern Iraq, Ireland, Turkey and Cuba, the film has a look and feel that is as fresh as it is striking.
Salman slips into the skin of the character without much apparent effort, adopting an appropriately low-key approach to a role that requires him to rein in his stock mannerisms.
He does occasionally lapse into the old Salman mode, especially when he is performing daredevil stunts under the supervision of veteran Hollywood action director Conrad E. Palmisano and, on a couple of occasions, in the company of Katrina Kaif’s body double.
But, overall, he does manage to inject a degree of believability into the character of the shadowy Tiger, a man with no real name, a man who lives a quiet life in a modest government flat in Delhi when he isn’t on another life-threatening mission in a dangerous part of the world, a man whose forays inevitably culminate in a killing.
Tiger falls in love with a Dublin girl of sub-continental origin who turns out to be an ISI operative. The two decide to listen to their hearts and make a dash for a new life away from the restrictions imposed on them by their agencies. Take that with a pinch of salt and you might even enjoy the ride.
Ek Tha Tiger takes on the contours of a road movie as the two unlikely lovebirds use all their wiles to shake their pursuers off their backs in a chase across the streets and buildings of Havana and an airstrip somewhere in Cuba.
In the action sequences, Salman is his usual larger-than-life, unstoppable self but he demands a markedly lower degree of willing suspension of disbelief than he normally does.
If Ek Tha Tiger breaks into the Rs 100-crore league, it would be another triumph for a star that, it would seem, can do no wrong – even when he decides to deviate from his established screen persona.