First, the good things: Ek Tha Tiger is the least annoying Salman Khan movie in ages. Coming after the ceaseless assaults on the senses that were Bodyguard and Ready, Salman’s performance in Ek Tha Tiger feels almost subtle. There are no bordering-on-obscene dance moves, no grotesque family members, and – believe it or not – only a single scene where he takes his shirt off.
Salman plays a RAW agent, which in the Ek Tha Tiger universe means that fans can have the pleasure of watching him perform stunts in various exciting locations, from Afghanistan to Dublin to Havana. Some of these action sequences are rather fun. The film opens, for instance, with a slow-mo Salman ridding the earth of a traitorous colleague, followed by a rather enjoyable chase through cobbled Afghan streets – director Kabir Khan, who made several documentaries in Afghanistan before making his feature debut with Kabul Express, knows how to exploit this locale.
After much catapulting from rooftops and tobogganing backwards down a flight of stone steps with a gun in each hand, Salman does a noton ki baarish with the late colleague’s ill-gotten gains, creating a nicely choreographed quasi-riot through which he can then escape.
We get the bare bones of Tiger’s home life, but it’s nicely done. The introductory scene placing him in his Delhi neighbourhood is most enjoyable: women of all ages failing to tear their eyes away from the mysterious bachelor who reappears after long absences to stand at his front door in his banian and take milk from the doodhwala. The scene with his boss Shenoy (Girish Karnad) is also a fine one, even if it hinges on some predictable farz-versus-mohabbat lines. Karnad at least has not gone the sleepwalking way of Naseeruddin Shah (Maximum) and manages to bring a bit of spark to his scenes.
The real surprise of this film is that Salman actually has a romance track that isn’t played as broad comedy or tacky trophy-wife acquisition. It may be slightly silly (witness bad jokes about Zee and Doordarshan), but it has moments of real tenderness that one would have thought Salman had forgotten how to deliver. If this return to romance has something to do with the fact that the object of his affection is played by real-life ex Katrina Kaif – well, more power to her.
Katrina is an asset to the film – as British Asian student Zoya, she not only achieves the gigantic feat of making Salman Khan appear ‘in love’, she manages to look absolutely glorious without looking synthetic. She is also about a hundred times better at action than the last desi heroine I watched try her hand at a spy thriller – Kareena Kapoor in Agent Vinod.
In contrast, Ek Tha Tiger, though not badly shot, saunters through its locations like a contented tourist, rarely making any effort to create plotlines or characters specific to place. Even when it does – like casting Roshan Seth as a crabby old Indian scientist who lives and works in Dublin – the script gives him almost nothing to do. Ranveer Shorey, as Tiger’s colleague Gopi, is yet another instance of a marvelous actor given fairly little to chew on.