It is overlong, overheated and over the top. But is that the end of the story. No. Who expects a Tiger to change his stripes? In his third outing as superspy Avinash Singh Rathore alias Tiger, Salman Khan, with aid of a story by producer Aditya Chopra and a screenplay from Shridhar Raghavan, proves that there is always a great deal of purchase from the spectacle of an irrepressible hero leaping off all kinds of perches and landing on his feet.
The lead actor’s star power comes in handy, but Tiger 3 (like Pathaan and unlike War) is gender-agnostic. Katrina Kaif is allowed almost as much of the action as the invincible Tiger, whose death-defying feats return in the third instalment in a bigger and more brazen form.
It bears no repetition that the heroine, herself an agent with a mean streak, gets a major action sequence all to herself in a Turkish hamam attired in a towel as she goes head-to-head against a deadly Chinese agent and martial arts instructor (played by American stuntwoman-actress Michelle Lee). The two deliver loads of cool. If nothing else, the two spotless towels add an extra layer to the film.
The YRF spy universe is obviously not meant for those that look for realistic, close-to-the-bones espionage thrillers but for everyone else (whether you Salman and swag) there is a lot in here. For good measure, the villain in this film isn’t just another scowling, growling Pakistani agent. He gives the hero a run for his money.
The bad guy does not fail to declare his intention to wipe India off the face of the earth – that is only to be expected – but he is anything but a single-not adversarial figure thanks to the writing and the steady performance that Emraan Hashmi comes up with.
The action in the first half of the film belongs more to the stunt doubles than to the two stars. In the second, things balance out and Salman and Katrina jump in – yes, jump is the operative word – and are joined by another superstar of the universe returning a favour that he received in his previous film of the thriving genre.
Tiger 3, directed by Maneesh Sharma, takes only three sequences to spell out what it is going to be about. It opens with Zoya’s (Katrina Kaif) origin story. It is brief, to the point and plays out in London at the turn of the millennium. The prelude also introduces a character that is destined to quickly acquire a larger-than-life aura, if only a little less than that of the titular hero.
Sequence 2 has R&AW chief Maithili Menon (Revathy) sending Tiger on a quick rescue operation aptly called Mission Timepass. If ‘timepass’ is what Tiger 3 wants to be, it succeeds in achieving that end – and then some.
Cut to the next sequence. The man that Tiger has been charged with rescuing from a land from where no Indian agent has ever come out alive insists that there was nothing ‘personal’ in his act of firing at the agency’s go-to all-weather, all-terrain man.
The rest of the story takes on personal proportions for Tiger and Zoya on one hand and a former ISI agent, Aatish Rehman (Emraan Hashmi), on the other. The battle is between truth and half-truth, between betrayal and redemption, between blackmail and resistance, between democracy and dictatorship, and between double agents and genuine comrades.
The most noteworthy aspect of Tiger 3, which pans out in Istanbul, St. Petersburg, Vienna, Islamabad and a high-security prison in a mountainous part of Pakistan, is that Tiger, Zoya and their team do not fight a nation as a whole but only a bunch of renegades in the ISI and the Army who are out to stage a coup against the country’s peacenik prime minister, Nasreen Irani (Simran).
It is a significant reversal of a well-worn formula. The rulers of Pakistan and its people have often been projected as separate entities in Hindi action films. In Tiger 3, a distinction is additionally made between a democratically elected ruler and rogue elements within the nation’s army and intelligence establishment who are out to dislodge her.
In what is a major expansion of the notion of a surgical strike, a lot of crucial action scenes are staged in the prime ministerial enclave in the Pakistani capital – in its kitchen, its bunker and its stables – on the nation’s Independence Day.
The developments that lead Tiger, his wife and their mates, including Rakesh Chaurasia (Kumud Mishra) and Anand Rao (Anant Vidhaat), there forms the crux of the story. In its folds are plot details about what happens to the spy-couple’s son, Junior (Sartaaj Kakkar), and a pregnant Pakistani agent, Shaheen (Riddhi Dogra in a cameo), to whom two key characters are directly related.
Watching Tiger 3 demands a willingness to turn a blind eye to occasional lapses in logic and the monotony that some of the action blocks engender, especially when they overstay their welcome. All of them do just that sooner or later. Tiger 3 would have been better served had the editing been sharper.
In the jungle that Tiger inhabits, the laws are clear. Half measures aren’t welcome. Everything that this espionage thriller assembles is multiplied by three at the very least and delivered with abandon. Take it or lump it.
Tiger 3 is the sort of film where action frequently overshadows acting. The stunt choreographers, the cinematographer (Anay Goswami) and the VFX team deserve unstinted ovation. Each of the action high points contribute to keeping the film galloping until, as has been pointed out earlier in this review, they are in danger of being snuffed out by overkill.
All the technical razzmatazz that the film rides on would have come to naught without the presence of a star or two who can add lustre, if only of a superficial kind, to the exercise. Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif do not disappoint even when Tiger 3 isn’t exactly as fleet as a feline on its feet.
Amid the fireworks that is perhaps befitting for a Diwali release, at least two performances in Tiger 3 amount to more than just surround sound – the ones that Revathy and Simran deliver. In a Salman and Katrina show, they demonstrate that there is great value in pre-spy universe methods of fleshing out characters.
Since the spies are here to stay, as are the explosions, gunfights and hand-to-hand combats that come with the territory, we might as well get used to it. Tiger 3 might help. It is a film that, for the most part, stays on the rails.
Salman Khan, Katrina Kaif, Emraan Hashmi, Ashutosh Rana, Revathi, Riddhi Dogra