Rating: *** 1/2
The action is riveting, the stunts breathtaking and the plot racy. In the midst of it all is Salman Khan, Hindi cinema's poster boy for escapist entertainment. After having acted in some good, bad and terrible films for over two decades, Salman Khan's Chulbul Pandey regaled masses inDabangg, Abhinav Kashyap's quirky take on the masala genre. This was soon after Wanted brought audiences back to single screen cinemas.
Since then, it's been one monstrous hit after another, including films that had little going for themselves other than the not-so-towering presence of Khan. Most of these — Wanted first, and then Ready and Bodyguard —have been poorly written, are haphazardly put together and have more or less followed a simple formula — piggyback on the 'bhai' persona, and play to the gallery.
Ek Tha Tiger is similar in some ways — it's a film that presents Salman as a larger-than-life, superhero-esque secret agent. There's action, music and a plot that is tailored to satiate Khan fans looking to get off on his antics.
But, surprise surprise. Director Kabir Khan doesn't leave things to theSalman factor alone. He banks on it, no doubt, with his film exploiting the actor's persona to the hilt, but makes sure he makes it a spectacle of it. "I'll show you how to do it" - his film arrogantly seems to be telling filmmakers chasing multiple crore figures and box office records. There's style, there's slickness, and there's an ingredient almost entirely missing from most other Salman films - wit.
Tiger's a RAW agent - the best there is. The film opens with a well put-together action sequence shot on the outskirts of Iraq. Tiger kills a bunch of agents after bumping off one of his own men, who defected to Pakistan'sISI.
Back home, he's yearning to go back on another mission. He's assigned to follow acclaimed science expert Professor Kidwai in Dublin, believed to be sharing nuclear secrets with Pakistan. There, Tiger meets Zoya and the expected happens. The two fall in love. But the revelation of Zoya's true identity throws things out of gear. Can a spy afford romance? And what if the person might be the enemy?
The narrative is linear. Kabir Khan keeps the storytelling simple and the runtime short. The film, if anything, gets over before you expect it to. Designed to be a two hour-long adrenaline rush, Ek Tha Tiger doesn't pause for breath. There's very little excess, almost not a single scene out-of-place and the editing watertight. The first half is mostly driven by humour and romance, the scenes between Tiger and Zoya setting up the explosive action that follows.
Hindi cinema's tryst with the spy genre has been scattered. Dharmendra'sAankhen, Jeetendra's Farz, Mithun Chakraborthsy's Surakshaa and theMahender Sandhu-starrer Agent Vinod all met with varied success, beforeSridhar Raghavan's tongue-in-cheek take on the latter earlier this year. All of them had 'khufiya agents', 'dushman-e-mulk' and double crossing femme fatales.
Where Ek Tha Tiger works is the balancing act - it's a full-blown Hindi film, with desh prem, farz and mohabbat all a part of the recipe. But Kabir Khan treats the film like a stylised Hollywood thriller, never getting into graver issues, but using the set-up as a tool to regale. His plot takes the characters to some of the most exotic locales around the world ala James Bond, each of them woven into the screenplay. Ireland is where Tiger andZoya meet, before reuniting in Turkey and then taking off to Cuba.
A spectacularly put together action sequence in Havana - probably the best you have seen in a Hindi film - is enough to get back your money's worth. Expertly choreographed and stylishly executed, it delights you with its clever stunts as much as it does with humour. Sample this: Having landed in a house inhabited by an old couple in-between a chase sequence, Tiger struggles to open the exit door to the apartment. The old man calmly gets up, and opens the latch to let Tiger and Zoya out.
Ek Tha Tiger, at the end of the day, is an out-and-out Salman Khan film. But it's the rare well-made one. It's escapist, but it has style. Go watch.