It’s the first sign of his astonishing strength: he kicks a man and the sheer force sends the victim crashing into a table, ash trays and cigarettes launched into the air in slow motion. When his work is done, his silhouette emerges against the backdrop of a magnificent sunrise in northern Iraq: make no mistake, Salman Khan is back—and Yash Raj Films is going to milk its first-ever chance to showcase him under its banner with Ek Tha Tiger.
Just to drive the point home as to how badass Tiger is, the full first 10 minutes of the movie are devoted to an elaborate sequence in which he cleverly fends off enemy spies that seem to materialize as quickly and relentlessly as pop-up windows on a virus-infected P.C. But he defeats ‘em all. He is Tiger, after all.
Here’s the deal with Tiger: A dedicated RAW spy agent, he has never taken a day off. He apparently makes excellent daal, which his boss jokes was what got him his job in the first place. He is used to thinking with his head, not his heart. And he has just been assigned to observe a professor in Ireland who is suspected to be betraying Indian intelligence to Pakistan’s ISI. With a name like Tiger, you figure he can’t fail in his mission.
But all of his workaholic, rulebook-obeying ways are thrown for a loop when he arrives in Dublin and encounters Zoya (Katrina Kaif), the professors’ lovely caretaker. Instantly smitten, Tiger now finds himself in situations out of his usually rugged element: ballroom dancing, arranging romantic stargazing dates, and buying girly gifts (much to the horror of his uptight partner, Gopi). For a novice, he’s surprisingly good at it, and Zoya ends up falling in love with him in return.
Yet, being Tiger, his story can’t be that simple, and he is forced to choose between his love for Zoya and his loyalty to RAW. Thus we are propelled from Ireland to Turkey to Cuba in twist after shocking plot twist, love-induced dilemmas, and no shortage of thrilling fight scenes and car chase sequences.
Put together the stratospheric pre-release hype and the highly watchable nature of the film itself, and Ek Tha Tiger is sure to give Salman another resounding blockbuster after his recent box office stunners, Bodyguard, Ready, and Dabangg. But whereas a film like Dabangg drew crowds for its unapologetic street appeal, much of ETT’s allure lies in its slick, globe-spanning visuals and enthralling action sequences. Cinematographer Aseem Mishra offers up enrapturing views as Tiger and Zoya race through the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul, gallivant through the footpaths of Dublin, and frolic on the beachfronts of Havana. Markos Rounthwaite and Conrad E Palmisano have choreographed a dizzying array of feats that take place everywhere from pubs and apartments to trams and helicopters. And thankfully, director Kabir Khan doesn’t let the romance angle saturate the story and bog down the action, making for a well-paced, thrilling ride.
For those harboring staunch skepticism towards Salman’s performances post-Andaz Apna Apna*, it must be said that his turn as Tiger is surprisingly endearing. He dials down his usual self-imposed American accent, immature antics, and half-naked strutting (don’t worry ladies, there’s still one gratuitous shirtless shot). Instead, he goes for witty one-liners, unusually affecting delivery of drama, and electrifying stunts proving that even pushing 50 years old, he’s still got it. Salman’s Tiger is overall the perfect hero; one whose misfortunes you’ll sympathize with, whose physical prowess you’ll marvel at, and whose success you’ll root for.
Similarly, it is a refreshing change to see Katrina diverge from being the pretty foreign accessory that she is often pigeonholed as. Here, she’s not just a British-born, freshly Botox’ed beauty in need of a male savior; on the contrary, she has a solid role and gets to do some of her own impressive dishoom-dishoom-ing, showing promise as an action heroine.
Of course, the film doesn’t escape the usual trappings of a Bollywood action movie. Maddening plot holes, horribly unconvincing disguises, and moments of utter disconnect from any logic whatsoever abound. Yet despite all the unfeasibility, Ek Tha Tiger holds your attention with its stylized look, an unwavering element of suspense, and yes, that undeniable and anxiously anticipated chemistry between Salman and Katrina.
Incorporating many ingredients of a successful film, from humor to catchy music to a whole lot of action, Ek Tha Tiger is highly enjoyable and a total entertainer. Call it a guilty pleasure or a stroke of moviemaking genius, but this is the full package–perhaps not one to be revered, but definitely one to be relished.