Here it is—the last big film of 2017. The one that has it all—A-list actors, a crackling story inspired from real events, romance, action, and doses of hyper- nationalism. But in the heart of this massy product lies a message about peace across borders, told with love and conviction. This makes the film an odd combo of being as conventional as it is subversive.
Interestingly, this love-across-borders theme has been recurrent in Salman Khan’s films off late— from Bajrangi Bhaijaan to Tubelight to Ek Tha Tiger and now Tiger Zinda Hai.
In Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Salman plays a small-town simpleton with a big heart. How he finds a Pakistani child who cannot speak and vows to unite her with her parents in Pakistan forms the story. In doing so, the Bajrang Bali devotee, questions man- made borders and religious politics that divide people on a superficial level. And as an audience, we absorb and mull over these ideas too. The child then becomes the symbol of a human being who is completely free and trusting, who has not yet learned the fear-based ways of the world, and is happier for it.
Tubelight, set against the 1962 Sino-Indian war, has smidgens of positive messages like the futility of war, which sadly get snowed under confused storytelling. The film tries to please everyone, and while it admirably throws some ideas around, it doesn't have the tenacity to carry it through.
That is the strength of Tiger Zinda Hai— it has conviction in its message.
Judged technically as a film, this one is often clumsy and cliché- ridden. It’s got the shirtless Salman playing his usual Big Moose- with-a-heart routine; it’s got the glam heroine who can fight the villain’s sidekicks but must be rescued towards the end; there is the emotionally manipulative plot; the loud and relentless background score; and unbelievable cinematic liberties like a RAW agent, supposedly undercover, carrying an Indian flag in his backpack as a badge of patriotism.
But you are willing to forgive and indulge all of this, because the film delivers its message of peace with disarming charm and sweetness, even adding a pinch of humour.
The story, based on the 2014 abduction of nurses by ISIS, is told in a predictably simplistic manner. In this moment of national crisis, India’s Intelligence agency RAW needs its former best agent— Tiger, who (as we saw in the first film) has fallen in love with Pakistani agent Zoya and disappeared. Now, the two former agents live a quiet family life in obscurity, till they are tracked down. Will country come first or family?
What follows is Salman doing impossible stunts, escaping fatal situations, and saving the day— all this with ridiculously perfect hair.
You may roll your eyes, and the film often deserves that. It’s ironic that the film stresses on nationalism, and also talks about thinking beyond borders and embracing humanity above religion and country. But the idea of countries, specifically India and Pakistan, coming together to fight terrorism is an invigorating one.
Its ability and audacity in suggesting this idea, and making it all entertaining is my main takeaway from the film. Cloaking the message in the comforting arms of a formula entertainer, the film, in a way, sugar-coats the pill. And as Julie Andrews taught us early on…A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down!