Director: Ali Abbas Zafar
Cast: Salman Khan, Katrina Kaif
Let me begin by expressing my admiration for all that director Ali Abbas Zafar is trying to accomplish in Tiger Zinda Hai. Firstly, he must genuflect before the outsized Salman Khan persona and deliver, once again, the noble, muscled superhero that Bhai fans revere and demand. Then he must create an exciting thriller, loosely based on the true life incident of Indian nurses, being trapped in an Iraqi hospital in 2014. And since the first film Ek Tha Tiger is all about the love story between Tiger, a RAW agent and Zoya, an ISI agent, Ali also has to bring in romance, Pakistan and lots of chest-thumping patriotism. In between all of this, Ali and his co-writer Neelesh Misra try to bung in global geo-politics. And Tiger even gets a scene where he propounds on the religion the world needs most right now – Insaniyat.
Maybe it is too much to be piled on to a popcorn spy franchise. Tiger Zinda Hai is flat out exhausting. The story is much too long and convoluted. The frame is filled with characters but apart from Tiger, none of them make an impact. And for me, the weakest link is that there is nothing that moors you emotionally.
In Ali's last film Sultan, also starring Salman, Ali skillfully married Khan's stardom with a genuinely moving story of a wrestler who must rebuild his life both in the stadium and outside of it. But here, stardom trumps storytelling.
So there are umpteen shots of Salman strutting in slow motion and the action is designed to showcase him as a one-man army. He can fight wolves with his bare hands. He also takes on the bad guys with guns, knives and even a wet cloth. He is the saviour of men, women and children. At one point, the villain Abu Usman tells him, without a trace of irony, you must be a very charismatic man Tiger.
The bad guys incidentally are called ISC, which is the Bollywood version of ISIS. This is the gang that just can't shoot straight. So no matter how many of them are aiming at the good guys, their bullets just don't seem to connect – especially not with Tiger who roars unscathed through everything.
A lot of time, money and talent has been expended on the massively mounted action sequences. Some of the explosions and weaponry, including rocket launchers, is truly impressive. The production values and cinematography are first-rate. The soft spot is the screenplay. Ali ups the stakes so Tiger and Zoya must get the nurses out of the hospital before America sends its drones in and blows up the hospital. They only have a week to execute the mission. In an unintentionally hilarious scene, the RAW head tells his CIA counterpart: You can't bomb Ikrit and the CIA agent replies: Yes we can but then he promptly agrees to wait so Tiger can come in and save the day.
I don't have a problem with that. I'm not demanding logic. But I do demand an adrenalin rush and entertainment and honestly there just isn't enough of it.
Of course, Salman effectively becomes superman. He owns the frame and in any case, the screenplay reduces the other actors to props, including the nurses who are at the centre of the mission. Katrina is best in the action sequences – drama is still a challenge for her. I enjoyed Sajjad Delafrooz as Abu Usman – he has a nice polished menace to him. And Kumud Mishra as the computer hacker also gets some nice lines.
But none of this is enough to propel the film or to give you a high. Tiger Zinda Hai is fun in bits and spurts but there isn't enough buoyancy to make it a slam dunk.