Mixing and matching genre conventions with varying degrees of success, “Ek Tha Tiger” is a spy thriller-romance featuring a pair of kickass agents (a la “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”) who belong to opposite sides of the Indian/Pakistani divide until love turns them both rogue, setting their respective agencies in murderous pursuit (shades of the Bourne movies). Result boasts some excellent action sequences, most performed by megastar Salman Khan, and indeed is generally more effective in fight scenes than in hearts-and-flowers mode. Though Kabir Khan’s film broke B.O. records on its Aug. 15 Independence Day weekend release, crossover success looks unlikely.
The plot casts Khan as superspy Tiger. An exciting prologue, set among the winding streets, bazaars and rooftops of an Iraqi village, finds Tiger handily defeating a bunch of assassins on his tail. From there the action moves to Dublin, where exchanges with his boss (Girish Karnad) reveal Tiger as a dedicated, most un-Bond-like spy who couldn’t care less about wine, women or luxury vacations.
Thus, when Tiger falls hard for sexy dance student Zoya (Katrina Kaif), he can muster no defense. Disguised as a dorky writer, Tiger alternates between lovestruck mooniness, learning dating dos and don’ts from fellow agent Gopi (Ranveer Shorey), and high-octane heroism, stopping a runaway tram with just his jacket, which he then dons en route to meet his lady love. This Clark Kent/Superman-style back-and-forth lasts almost until intermission, when Tiger discovers Zoya’s true colors as a covert op.
In the second act, the lovers reunite in Istanbul and finally flee to Havana, mowing down pursuers separately or in tandem. Helmer Khan makes excellent use of exotic locales for his breathless setpiece chases and somewhat cliched use of regional cultural motifs for his song-accompanied, multiple-costumed romantic montages.
The Yash Raj studio, in choosing a director habitually associated with serious subjects, no doubt hoped to add class and significance to the usual Salman Khan testosterone sprees. Certainly the filmmaker brings a degree of realism to the melees: Tiger dispatches murderous villains one by one with satisfying ingenuity, rather than sending several flying simultaneously. The truly ridiculous is reserved for key moments only. The helmer also imposes a more unified vision on the ensemble, opting for situational humor instead of relying on second-string buffoons.
Kaif displays some impressive moves in her action-heroine debut, while Salman Khan’s thinking-on-his-feet immediacy adds depth to his usual macho muscle. Local auds will no doubt derive a special thrill from the onscreen reunion of stars Khan and Kaif, once an offscreen item.
Slickly produced “Tiger” profits greatly from Aseem Mishra’s gorgeous location lensing.