Five years after we first saw him on screen as the all-conquering Indian spy Tiger, Salman Khan reprises the role in Ali Abbas Zafar’s “Tiger Zinda Hai” (The Tiger is Alive).
The years haven’t been kind to him – he lumbers through snow, fights CGI-enhanced wolves in a remote Austrian forest with his son, who is oddly called “Junior”, and squabbles with his Pakistani wife Zoya (Katrina Kaif).
Meanwhile, in Iraq, a militant organisation takes over a city and holds Indian and Pakistani nurses hostage in a hospital. That’s when the head of India’s external intelligence agency, RAW, calls up Tiger and sends him on a rescue mission. Our hero, we are told, already has a foolproof plan. But as the film progresses, you realise that both his plan and the film are all over the place. It might be too much to expect Bollywood to keep geopolitical realities and international relations in mind while making a film, but Zafar’s script and direction can barely keep pace with the basics of filmmaking.
He would have us believe that the RAW chief can tell the Americans to wait for seven days before they bomb a city where the world’s most wanted man is holed up, because that’s how much time our hero needs to rescue the nurses.
Tiger and his team are supposed to enter Iraq discreetly, pretend to be oil rig workers and sneak into the hospital unnoticed. Instead, by the time they reach the location, they’ve had gunbattles with militants, killed one of their top leaders, and blown up half the buildings in the city. And after all that, Tiger’s grand plan is to subdue the militants by subjecting them to food poisoning.
Midway through the crisis, Zoya also lands up in the city, having been recruited by Pakistan’s spy agency to rescue Pakistani nurses. From here on, the film turns into another tired advertisement for unity.
“Tiger Zinda Hai” is written for Salman Khan and everything else is peripheral and doesn’t matter – at least from the filmmaker’s perspective. But it is Kaif who comes out shining. She puts her mostly frozen expressions to perfect use during the action sequences, kicking and chopping with abandon. She is certainly more agile, more alive and seems to be having more fun than Khan.
If there is ever a third film in the works in this action franchise, then the filmmakers would do well to put Kaif in the spotlight and give Tiger some down time.