Director: Maneesh Sharma
Writers: Aditya Chopra (story), Shridhar Raghavan (screenplay)
Cast: Salman Khan, Katrina Kaif, Emraan Hashmi
Duration: 153 minutes
Available in: Theatres
For all those who had, because of the successes of Pathaan, Jawan and Gadar 2 (all 2023 releases), forgotten just how difficult it is for an ageing star to pass as an action hero, Tiger 3 is here as a cautionary tale. Super spy Avinash “Tiger” Singh Rathore — created by Kabir Khan and Neelesh Mishra, and no relation to Vikram Rathore, the zaddy of Jawan — first appeared in the superhit Ek Tha Tiger (2012) and won hearts because director Kabir Khan smartly utilised Salman Khan’s limited range of expressions to suggest inscrutability and give Tiger an air of unpredictability. Without twitching a muscle, Tiger would pull the most insane stunts and walk away calmly. Whether he was falling in love with Pakistani spy Zoya (Katrina Kaif) or preventing a train crash, Salman as Tiger had the same non-expression on his face, leaving it to the audience to fill in the blank with their own imagination. It worked, mostly because the Tiger films persuasively imagined a world that was as thrilling as it was hopeful.
In this third film, Tiger has to multitask. He’s a husband, father and a spy. The last part involves wearing a bushy beard and bushier wig to look like the Bandra cousin of Yosemite Sam from Looney Tunes, and roaming around St. Petersburg, Russia. In addition to keeping his family safe, Tiger takes on the additional job of protecting democracy in Pakistan. Like Tara Singh of Gadar 2, Tiger feels a certain obligation to look out for our neighour’s political state of affairs since he’s married to a Pakistani. To this end, Tiger doesn’t just save Pakistan from itself, but even gets Pakistanis to stand up for the Indian national anthem. It’s almost as though the people making Tiger 3 hoped that jingoism would compensate for Salman’s comatose performance.
We begin in a place that looks like it was conjured with the prompts “Prince of Persia plus Afghanistan”. Tiger and his keffiyeh show up to save an Indian spy, who in his last moments tells Tiger that Zoya might be working as a double agent. The film’s action then goes city-hopping in Austria, Russia and Turkey with the kind of frenetic, photogenic energy that is bound to give goosebumps to travel agents in the audience. It turns out that Zoya is indeed working with the enemy, who happens to be an ex-colleague of her father’s and a court-martialled officer of the Pakistani Army, Aatish Rehman (Emraan Hashmi). Aatish is a man with many plans, as a result of which most of the second half of Tiger 3 unfolds in the presidential palace in Pakistan. Hashmi, like John Abraham in Pathaan, is a welcome addition to the spyverse. Thanks to Hashmi being one of those actors whom Hindi cinema has rarely utilised to the best of his abilities, his Aatish and Salman’s Tiger have more chemistry in their few scenes together than Zoya and Tiger.
Zoya has always been an important part of the Tiger franchise and in this film, Kaif has both screen time as well as some stellar action scenes. However, what she lacks is independence. Instead of being a key player in her own right, Zoya is treated like a stepping stone to Tiger. (Considering how much more convincing Kaif is in fight scenes compared to Salman, one can’t help but attribute Aatish’s decision to cast aside Zoya and pay more attention to Tiger, to sexism.) Ultimately, despite the screen time, Zoya makes little impact because the scope of her role is limited and Kaif struggles to bring either dynamism or expression to her performance. For Tiger 3 to work, the film’s lead pair needed to be surrounded by a cast of fantastic supporting actors who would do the heavy lifting. Unfortunately, the story and screenplay don’t give actors like Revathi, Simran, Kumud Mishra and Ranvir Shorey enough to do, which means they can’t salvage the wreckage that is the plot of Tiger 3.
Ultimately, the star of Tiger 3 is Shah Rukh Khan’s Pathaan (this is not a spoiler. Khan’s cameo was announced as part of the pre-release publicity campaign and appears to be the only element of Tiger 3 that generated any interest among fans). His energy lifts the film and is even able to add a little zing to Salman’s attempts at acting. The scenes with Shah Rukh and Salman include a little tribute to Sholay (1975), which was delightful and when the two men are on screen together, Tiger 3 briefly becomes an enjoyable buddy comedy with lots of explosions. There’s little else in Tiger 3 that justifies either the money or time spent on a film. The action scenes look like extended cuts of Thums Up commercials and soon enough become yawn-inducing. Since we all know Tiger will emerge unscathed, any feelings these scenes inspire are for the architectural structures that are demolished in the process.
Disappointingly, director Maneesh Sharma is not able to bring any emotional depth to Tiger 3. In the past, Sharma has directed some of contemporary Hindi cinema’s most charming romances, setting them in small towns and unglamorous neighbourhoods to show how small stakes can nevertheless feel moving and important. Tiger 3 has none of that richness or texture. The characters lack any credible camaraderie and Zoya and Tiger’s marriage feels perfunctory at best. It seems telling that one of the few moments that attempts to communicate intimacy between the two leads shows the two of them asleep. That is the energy of the whole film in a nutshell.
No one would expect a thespian to emerge out of Salman Khan at this point so it should not be surprising that he remains blank and expressionless as Tiger. Arguably, his performance (as well as hair and make-up) in Tiger 3 is better than what we saw in Kisi Ka Bhai Kisi Ki Jaan, but that’s not saying much. However, what Khan has done in the past is bring a certain flair, irreverence and starry energy to his films. Frequently, his films are fun because there’s no telling whether his character will dish out some lunacy or over-the-top heroism or both, all with a straight face and dry monotone.
This time, the actor lumbers his way through the plot points, relying upon technology like slow-mo to make his character seem charismatic. He mumbles his lines and jumps through the action hoops with all the energy of a wet sponge. Add to this his limited range of expressions, and it feels as though Tiger just can’t be bothered to process all the events and ideas that the film touches upon in its 153-minute runtime. There’s never a hint of fear or vulnerability in him, but neither does he exude any menace or sense of danger. Unlike the other hero of the spyverse Kabir (played by Hrithik Roshan), who seems like a ticking time bomb, Tiger is a mountain of predictability. Other characters are rarely unnerved or surprised by him and as a result, he evokes little by way of emotional reaction in the audience.
The silver lining of Tiger 3 is that it continues to dream up a world in which, despite the devastation, there is hope. Here, women become heads of states, honour is a bond between spies no matter what agency they report to, and peace is a possibility between warring nations. If only the fantasy could extend to giving us a lead who is a hero rather than a star.