& occasionally about other things, too...

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Welcome back, Tiger!

Spoilers ahead

The very few who read this blog know how passionate I’m about popular Hindi cinema; and by the way, it's majorly disconcerting to all those who love mainstream Hindi cinema that an entire industry is known across the world as 'Bollywood,' which seems like a cheap derivative of the original American brand. Anyway, the point is that it shouldn’t surprise the few readers of this blog that I frequently write about popular Hindi cinema especially after I see a film in a cinema hall.

These days, thanks to the Android box that we have installed at home, we are able to access Indian movies and television channels easily. No more having to buy pirated DVDs for $1. If one is indifferent to the quality of the print, one can get to see the latest releases in Bombay the same or the next day. I don’t watch any television news from India because I no longer relate to it in the way I did a decade ago when I was in India. 

Yes, I’m in the tenth year of living in Toronto. Reminds me of the Pink Floyd lines from the timeless ‘Time,’

“…and then one day you find
ten years have got behind you
no one told you when to run
you missed the starting gun.
And you run and you run
to catch up with the sun that’s sinking
racing around to come up behind you again
the sun is the same in a relative way
but you’re older
shorter of breath and one day closer to death…”

Isn't that classic, yes it is. But also maudlin and depressing. So let’s get back to popular Hindi cinema.

On Christmas eve Mahrukh and I went to see Tiger Zinda Hai – on the first weekend of the film’s release. And it was as expected a totally awesome experience. The crowd was like it'd be in India. The cinema hall, which probably takes about 500 people, was brimming full with people.

I've written about the unique and unparalleled experience of watching a Hindi movie in Toronto on two occasions in 2016 so I won’t repeat myself. If you’re interested in reading about it, here are two examples:

Back to TZH: The audience erupted into a mighty and ceaseless applause as soon as Salman Khan came on the screen. From then, when he wrestles with wolves, to the end when he sings and dances to Swag se karen ge sab ka swagat, there is constant and loud cheering, whistling on a few occasions, and sporadic hollering; the applause just doesn’t cease. In any other movie this would be a disturbance, but in a Salman Khan movie, I guess it's background score.

The Tiger series is special to me because it advocates a sensible approach to India-Pakistan relations, and does so at present times when the powers-that-be in India have convinced them that Pakistan is evil. There seems to be an imminent possibility that the subterranean tension may bubble over and turn into something more than a mere exchange of gunfire across the borders. 

Like his predecessor Kabir Khan, who introduced the world to Tiger, Ali Abbas Zafar, the director and the co-writer of the sequel, too, has an idealistic and romanticised view of how the subcontinental relations should be.  I harbour a similar hope that the subcontinental neighbours will at least be civilised with each other if not turn into best buddies. I felt that for a few brief moments during the duration of the film when everyone suspended their disbelief, there were some in the audience who agreed with the director's vision.

But most of the audience members remained unmoved, at least so it seemed. It’s probably an indication of how the audience – although South Asian, but predominantly Indo-Canadian – feels about the present situation in the subcontinent. 

I found the scenes where the Indian and the Pakistani agents bicker only to end up as friends deeply satisfying and emotional, but the audience didn’t react to the scenes in any discernible manner. There were minor guffaws and short, almost embarrassed, laughter. The scene where both the Indian and the Pakistani flags are raised on the bus carrying the Indian and Pakistani nurses was greeted with only half-hearted cheering. 

The rescue of the Indian nurses and the intricate and ever-changing circumstances that lead to constant twists in the storyline keep the audience engaged. In Tiger Zinda Hai, the story invests into bringing alive the ISIS-unleashed crisis by introducing a young lad being used as a human bomb by the evil head of the outfit Abu Usman.

Sajjad Delafrooz, an Iranian actor, who performs this role turns in a refreshingly studied and underplayed performance. He shows an amazing ability to switch from rose-tinted tenderness to blood-red menace especially in scenes with the head nurse Poorna (Anupriya Goenka). This is no crazed dictator of a murderous movement, Usman is a cool-headed, calculating head of a militant outfit that knows what he wants and how to get it.

Paresh Rawal as Firdaus, the sleazy middleman who slithers into a position of benefit irrespective of the situation, is expectedly consummate. Thankfully, Katrina Kaif’s character, Zoya, the Pakistani agent now married to Tiger, and mother to his son, Junior, is not just a pretty face (although, admittedly, pretty she is. Indeed, very pretty) and has enough action scenes, which she performs dexterously and with chutzpah that is clearly missing from Tiger’s action scenes. 

As it turns out, Zoya is a Shia because she prays to Ali and whispers Ya Ali Madad before taking on the bad guys in a hand-to-hand combat. Although the outfit Usman runs is not called ISIS in the movie, the parallels are unmistakable, and the writer-director appears to have got the Shia-Sunni tensions right.

Salman Khan is cool and does what he knows best – be himself. Then, in a pivotal scene, he takes his shirt off. The audience gleefully whoops and drowns the ensuring dialogues for the next few minutes.  Together, Salman and Katrina make a perfect couple. Their chemistry is amazing. It’s time they got married in real life, too.

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