“Tiger Zinda Hai”… A tired, exhausting actioner with incredibly uninspired writing

Posted on December 24, 2017

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Spoilers ahead…

The ordeal of a group of Indian nurses held captive by a terrorist organisation in the Middle East was brought to screen, earlier this year, in Take Off. Mahesh Narayan’s Malayalam thriller-drama found an ingenious way to up the emotional stakes — it was both thriller and drama. As much as nails were being bitten during the tense portions detailing the rescue, moist eyes were being dabbed at the plight of a single nurse, whom we came to know as a human being before she turned into the target of a covert operation. Take Off made us realise why this risky mission was needed — not because of the abstract concept of the value of human life, but because this particular human life was one we didn’t want to be snuffed off so cruelly.

Tiger Zinda Hai, directed by Ali Abbas Zafar, turns the emphasis from who’s being rescued to who’s doing the rescuing. Understandably so. Take Off was a female movie, written around its heroine. It was yin; this is yang, not just a male movie but one written for a superstar. And how super is this star? He disposes of wolves in the Alpine wilderness as though they were black bucks. He paints. He makes a killer kaali dal. For a while, it’s just Tiger (Salman Khan, looking tired) and his young son on screen, and I wouldn’t have been surprised had the screenplay revealed that he’d given birth to the boy. He does everything. Why not this? Hence the groans from the audience when RAW chief Shenoy (Girish Karnad) announces that they’re going to rescue those nurses, and his assistant asks: “Karega kaun?” Really? Has he not seen the film’s posters?

“Really?” is a question you ask a lot during Tiger Zinda Hai. When Shenoy tracks Tiger down to talk about this mission, Tiger says no. Really? “Hum sab time waste kar rahe hain,” says Shenoy’s assistant, and you have to agree. Unless you’re going to invest a lot of screen time detailing how a reluctant agent is convinced, why have these silly scenes? There’s the sense that someone prepared a list of clichés that had to be dutifully adhered to — right down to the villain capturing the hero and, instead of putting a bullet through him, leaving him to die through convoluted means. I was reminded of the first Austin Powers movie, where Dr. Evil decides to execute the protagonist in a shark tank and declares, “Begin the unnecessarily slow-moving dipping mechanism.” A little later, he leaves, saying, “I’m going to leave them alone and not actually witness them dying, I’m just gonna assume it all went to plan.” Tiger Zinda Hai is what you’d get if Austin Powers forgot to wink.

A couple of places give you a sense of what this film could have been. Tiger is married to Pakistani agent Zoya (Katrina Kaif, who’s more convincing in the action scenes than Salman is), and when Shenoy’s assistant sees the Indian and Pakistani flags placed side-by-side on a display shelf in Tiger’s house, he moves them apart. This mistrust could have added a frisson to the proceedings, especially after Zoya and her ISI agents join the mission. But that would take some actual writing. Why bother? Tiger Zinda Hai is the kind of movie that tells you how Tiger and Co. plan to enter the hospital (where the nurses are being held), and then shows them executing this very same plan. The only tension built into the narrative is how much money it will make in its opening weekend.

Julius Packiam is the film’s hero. His background score is the equivalent of the electro-shock paddles that doctors on TV keep pressing on patients’ chests. But there’s only so much resuscitation one can do when faced with such a dearth of ideas. I was surprised exactly twice — seeing Zoya’s battered face after her capture (Katrina has never allowed herself to look this… unbeautiful on screen), and listening to the villain (Sajjad Delfrooz) talk about his past. He says that you die not when you stop breathing but when you are stripped of your dignity, and it made me imagine terrorists as zombies: the undead, filled with unquenchable fury over their losses.  Of course, the film does nothing with this. If I said I expected it to, you’d just say, “Really?”

Copyright ©2017 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

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Posted in: Cinema: Hindi