I mean, for serious, Salman Khan is too freakin’ adorable in this movie!
But be warned, this is definitely not the Bhai of Dabangg, Ready, Wanted or even Bodyguard, and it’s not the kind of film that engenders Bhaimania (unless just the mere sight of him sends you into a frenzy of seetis, which is quite possible). The meta-self-referencing is virtually non-existent here, the action is completely Bond-esque rather than masala and the pacing is much slower than usual.
What’s more, this is more trademark Yash Raj than Bhai. At the heart of it, it’s a story of star-crossed lovers with some action thrown in rather than a bona-fide spy thriller with a side of romance. It is very much a massy, commercial love story and the espionage backdrop is just that – a backdrop.
Sadly, where the script falters (where it falters Bollywood-wide lately) is in engendering the passion, the emotional investment in the love story that would make all those high-octane lovers-on-the-run chase sequences worth it.
By now you know that Salman plays a RAW agent known as Tiger sent on a mission to tail a professor who is up to some possibly shady business in Dublin but mid-way, Tiger totally ditches the professor to date his caretaker, Zoya (Katrina). They fall in love and it turns out the professor was maybe not that shady anyway – I can’t remember because that’s the kind of detail that ETT chooses to skim over. Then a lot of spies from India and Pakistan are hunting the lovers down in some seriously swanky locales.
I wouldn’t even mind that the logistics of spy thrillerology were over-looked if the love story had some intensity and passion. Don’t get me wrong, the meet-cute scenes are ADORABLE, I mean you just want a cuddlebunny Salman doll at the end of it all (or maybe you’ll just want to marry him) because he is funny (the humor is dry rather than on the nose) and incredibly endearing. But what you’re rooting for is not so much for him and Zoya to get together so much as for him and YOU to get together.
Or possibly, that’s just me.
Because the chemistry between Salman and Katrina just didn’t work for me. And it’s sad because it could have. There are some heart-flipping scenes where Salman’s got the intense “don’t mess with my girlfriend” look, only that you sorta feel like it’s wasted on Zoya because she doesn’t seem all that interested in Tiger. There’s barely any emotion registering in Zoya/Katrina and I would place the blame on Katrina’s severe lack of facial mobility. There are entire monologues where her face doesn’t move, only her lips do, and her eyes are dead.
All of her mobility is saved for the action scenes in which she does kick some serious ass, scaling buildings and leaping across alleyways. Her role had potential, but rather than invest the character with layers, the writers (Aditya Chopra and Kabir Khan) are content to let her be one-note. And Kat doesn’t add anything to the cardboard cutout character – she dutifully mimes her lines in a rather stoic, obedient way so you never get a true sense of Zoya’s personality (the way you do with Tiger’s).
Then again, there’s Mashallah to make up for it, which rolls over end credits and let me tell you, at my theater, no one got up till they’d seen Kat gyrating her hips on the big screen.
Director Kabir Khan’s handling of the rather flawed script is noteworthy for the way he’s managed the balancing act between the demands of massy, commercial cinema and his own sensibilities which are quieter (“realistic” is a bit of a stretch) and tend to linger on small, intimate dialog-heavy scenes between characters. Some scenes dragged on too long, like the stage play right before the pre-interval reveal or the UN party scene which seemed more focused on the violinists than on the tension between Tiger and Zoya. That could have been such an intensely dramatic sequence but it ended up being too cautious and well-behaved for its own good.
Still, the pacing was a nice change from the usual one-seeti-per-second movies that we’ve seen Salman in lately. After ETT, people will be hard-pressed to say that Salman can’t act or that he just plays himself – there were many nuances of expression, intensity, sweetness, thoughtfulness that hark back to Tere Naam and those heavy-lidded eyes do what they were famous for in the early 90s (in that they make your dil go dhak dhak).
Of course, it’s a must watch. It’s a must watch, it’s just not an adrenaline rush. You’ll love Salman in it. It’s just sad that there was a potential for a really great, intense love story here but I was let down by Katrina’s acting in combination with Kabir Khan’s strange habit of focusing on everything but the core emotional jugalbandi between his two main leads. There’s no real villain here either, so between that and the passionless who-cares-if-they’re-together-or-not pairing, you’re just watching a stitched together sequence of beautifully shot action set pieces (one for each country) but you’re not really sure why.
Well, Salman is why I guess.
There’s a scene in Cuba when Zoya and Tiger come across the Che Guevara quote-mural “Amor cuerdo no es amor” roughly translating to “sane love is not love”. Ironically, deewangee is exactly the thing that’s missing in their love story. If only the makers had paid as much attention to the emotional undercurrent of the romance as they had in the action choreography, Ek Tha Tiger could have been brilliant.
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