Tiger Zinda Hai: Fatigued world-weary Salman saves the world, not the film
Zafar and Salman Khan take the one line plot from Malayalam film Take Off and go for an all guns blazing action film
Salman Khan's world peace canon swells further with Ali Abbas Zafar's Tiger Zinda Hai. We had Pawan Kumar Chaturvedi in Bajrangi Bhaijaan accompanying a child to her hometown in Pakistan with a message of unity. From west he moved towards east, with Tubelight, under the same director, Kabir Khan. Now comes Zafar with a bigger, louder message of world peace but with guns and bazookas blazing, between India and Pakistan, and some international setting (ISIS becomes ISC, Syria and Iraq remain as and where they are) in Tiger Zinda Hai. The name is just as beaming as before for he is a RAW agent - Avinash Singh Rathore - but this is Khan's world peace canon and therefore he needs to act secular - everyone refers to him as Tiger. Tiger's wife is Zoya (Katrina Kaif) from Pakistan. We don't learn their son's real name - it is just Junior. Convenient.
Cast: Salman Khan, Katrina Kaif, Paresh Rawal, Kumud Mishra
Director: Ali Abbas Zafar
Tiger Zinda Hai’s raison d'etre is the 2014 kidnapping of 49 Indian nurses by ISIS, who were subsequently released. Take-Off, Mahesh Narayan's 2017 Malayalam film too was based on the same event with Parvathy in the lead, a touching micro-story about a nurse, dealing with her life as a divorcee, her relationship with her son, and her partner, with the Indian diplomatic mission to get the nurses out transpiring in the background. Tiger Zinda Hai is of course a different film. If we go by evaluation method that's most rewarding, that is to recognize what a film is trying to do and finding out how well it goes about doing that, Tiger Zinda Hai is at the most middling. Beyond the plot, the nurses are disposable. There is no diplomatic mission. It's a war for Tiger to fight all the way. With the help of Pakistan and ISI agents. In Iraq. Because why not, this is a Salman Khan film. This might not be ambitious, but it is not a deal breaker by itself. After all, we had Baby, tackling a similar story with RAW agents, hackers and the works. But where Baby was earnest, ambitious and inventive in its action (save for the Argo-ness in the climax), Tiger Zinda Hai is tired, perfunctory and insincere. After hearing the choice for a code word, Tiger wonders, aaj kal RAW mein comedy chal raha hai kya? He isn't wrong except when he chooses to go along with it. The film falls further into emotional ennui with its India-Pakistan bhai-bhai that last belonged in Gadar, which is even directly referenced. Kabir Khan had an in-form Nawazuddin Siddiqui to guide and manoeuvre over this sentimental minefield that invoking patriotism and nationalism can be on screen, with his comedy and chemistry with Salman Khan whereas Zafar's action film spits out the most simplistic, the most basic by way of jaded drawls.
It's not like the action saves this action film. Tiger's action scenes feature close-shots, fast edits or slow motion, with him holding guns or showing off his naked torso. His introduction, with Junior and a pack of wolves sounds great on paper but goes on for too long. It is 2017 and we still get scenes wondering aloud red wire or yellow wire. Tiger tries everything from a horse, a bazooka, couple of pistols but Salman Khan's stiff physique and general world-weariness doesn't allow any form of combat to jump out of the screen. He looks fatigued doing everything - acting, fighting, cooking and romancing. Katrina Kaif though is a revelation. She is lithe, light on her feet when she lands and can form unimaginable contours on screen when she moves. Her action scenes are more fun, wholesome and she gets a compact introduction that is better than Salman Khan's. Her all black avatar with a pair of machine guns isn't the most awful idea. I may not mind an action film in the future with Kaif in the lead.
Tiger though needs a break. It's unfortunate that Salman Khan hasn't exhausted the list of our neighbouring countries, nor has he exhausted the borders on all sides. There is a hint of a sequel but then all Salman Khan films may qualify in that case. Wonder where he'll take his canon next. Will he dare go down south? Sri Lanka is there for the taking. If he can go to 1965, why not the 80s or 90s? Salman Khan next as ACP Paneerselvam? Who is going to tell him that the current moniker may not work all that great if he has such ideas?