Director: Kabir Khan
Indian Express Rating: ***
There are two conflicting factors in Ek Tha Tiger: Salman Khans overriding principle of silliness and Kabir Khans intrinstic liking for seriousness. But so overwhelming is Bhais past aura that serious keeps threatening to slide into silly,and the moment you give in to that in-between space,the film becomes something you can enjoy. Most of the time.
Tiger (Khan) is a RAW agent. We know this because he strides up and down the road leading to the imposing buildings in Lutyens Delhi which presumably host the spy headquarters. He has conversations with his boss (Karnad) about mundane things like dal and profound things like love. He also,when it is required,zips off to exotic foreign locations to save India from the dastardly moves of Pakistans ISI,where he indulges in long rooftop chases,gunplay,and manly banter with his colleague (Shorey) who watches his back.
Everything goes swimmingly till Tiger meets stunning Pakistani lass Zoya (Kaif) who has free access to the home of a Dublin-based mad Indian scientist (Seth),who may or may not be up to any good. If Kabir Khan had been left to his devices,we would have known more about what the scientist did. Or did not do. But this ultimately is a Salman Khan film,so what we get is poor Seth to appear like a tiny blip,and then disappear,unexplained,the moment his function is fulfilled. Which is just an excuse to get Tiger and Zoya,who introduces herself as a university student but who clearly has other skills,to meet.
The proceedings take you straight into Yashraj territory. The spy and the show girl are languidly romantic,exchanging notes about meteor showers and stars. They sing and dance,displaying spygiri,Yashraj style,where romance is king,and Tiger is Veer and Zoya is Zaara,thinly disguised.
I like this trying-for-serious Salman,because he proves he can say a straight sentence without mumbling. There have been films in the past when hes managed to do this,but his super success has come from those vehicles where hes abandoned sense,and embraced all manner of idiocy,because that is the easiest way to be a crowdpleaser. Kabirs story,co-written by Neelesh Mishra,forces him into intelligence,and that both liberates and strait-jackets him (look out for a couple of break-out moment when Bhai reverts to type,as well as a teeny flash of bare chest: all very casually done,as well as very fast,but very much there). Watching him in this one you get the feeling maybe he can be rescued,after all,from permanent laziness. But if he wants to play at being a kick-ass jaasoos again,maybe he also needs to get a matching body-double: in many places,especially when things are fast and furious,you can see the double,younger and slimmer,more clearly than you should be able to.
Katrina is an able,animated foil to Salman,her long legs making her leaps and kicks credible. Plus,she brings the right degree of playfulness to bear upon her hero: she gets to call him kaddu (pumpkin) and she says it like she means it. Im not sure if anyone else would have managed to do it just so. For a Bhai leading lady,Ms Kaif gets a lot to do,which has both to do with her own star status as well as her past personal history with Salman: these two look good together,making us wonder if the film could have been dubbed Ek Thi Tigerni.
There is only so much Serious Salman you can handle without wanting to burst out into giggles,so dont go looking for a grim spy story. Grimness is best dealt with by the Bournes. Salman is much more in packaged-by-Yashraj-Bond mode,bashing em up,and lovin her for ever: essentially Bhai doing his stuff,restricted,sure,tamped down,sure,but still Bhai doing his stuff.
I had fun while it lasted.