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An apology of a spy

Salman Khan, a world-roving spy, wielding some big stunts, and being quintessentially himself—roaring machismo, with heart. That’s a foolproof crowd- pleaser. But anyone who knows even the most mediocre works in the espionage genre will know that Kabir Khan’s Ek Tha Tiger is an apology of the genre.

Salman Khan in Ek Tha Tiger

The story by Aditya Chopra is based on a secret investigation. It begins with Tiger (Khan), conducting a mission in northern Iraq. The slow-motion, whistle-begging entry of Khan is accompanied by a barrage of gunshots and a poorly orchestrated chase sequence. A RAW officer who cooks a mean daal lives in a small, sparse government apartment in Delhi, is addicted to these missions. “Someone always gets killed in your missions," his boss (the RAW head played by Girish Karnad) reminds him every time he meets Tiger. The next mission takes him to Ireland, to a professor (Roshan Seth) who is under the scanner because he is known to be an advisory nuclear scientist for the enemy, Pakistan. In Ireland, Tiger meets Zoya or Zee, a dance choreographer by profession and caretaker of the professor’s home. Romance blossoms. Despite repeated warnings from Tiger’s associate played by Ranbir Shorey not to fall in love, the big man can’t help but be smitten. The rest of the film is a multi-location, humdrum journey of the man and the woman where they are caught in predictable situations, out of which they escape predictably. The message of this boring saga is Indo-Pak peace.

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The story has no intrigue or wit. Salman Khan is a tiger, a world-roving spy, and an Indian Intelligence officer. And while on a secret mission, he falls in love with Zoya (Katrina Kaif).

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There are two slick action sequences in Ek Tha Tiger, but those are also artificially heightened by the banal tool used in every Bollywood action film—the repeated slow motion frame. In scale and depth, Aseem Mishra’s cinematography has some flourishes. But in visualization too, clichés and misrepresentations abound. Every location has a postcard introduction. A puff of frozen smoke against an azure blue sky for Havana, for example. Istanbul is about mosques and bazaars. Ireland, strangely, is about Scottish costumes and bagpipes. In terms of technique, while Ek Tha Tiger looks cosmetically expensive, there is no surprise or ingenuity. You have seen these hues, these frames and cuts numerous times before.

Khan has some endearing moments in the first hour of the film. It’s an improvement on the plastic testosterone he has been in recent movies, over and over again. Even so, by the end of the film, you won’t see anything different from what you’ve seen of him before. Kaif has almost as much to do as her co-star, but there is no novelty to this performance. She is a boring actor with staple expressions; Zoya, despite the perfunctory mystery in the character, does not transcend the routine Barbie she has always been. Karnad’s role is a caricature, and throughout the film, the mismatch between the actor and the film’s high-pitched tone and dialogues are sorely obvious. Shorey is Gopi, Tiger’s colleague and friend, who exists only to accentuate Tiger’s invincibility. Like Karnad, the writers don’t give him much to work with.

Neelesh Mishra and Kabir Khan turns Chopra’s story of Ek Tha Tiger into a screenplay. The writing is the film’s biggest undoing. It has no semblance of reality. The RAW, the ISI, a government officer’s protocol, the basic processes in which governance and nations function—these are irrelevant realities in this story. Situations are thrown in for convenience, pushing the story along to facilitate the next action sequence. The loopholes in the screenplay are unforgivable. For reality, imagine this: a gun-toting RAW agent is face-to-face with a gun-toting ISI agent. Both have been planning elaborate attacks on each other’s teams. They exchange a quick frown and behave as if nothing happened, because they are after all united in their defeat against a moony couple on the run. Ek Tha Tiger is one of the worst screenplays of the year.

Without any heft or intrigue for a spy film, and with too much of dull romance, Ek Tha Tiger is damp squib.

Ek Tha Tiger released in theatres on Wednesday.

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