It’s a very happy Eid for us, Salman’s film is a huge hit,” exulted Salim Khan as he accepted greetings in a house brimming with guests. It was in direct contrast to last year’s Eid when Salim and Salma had sat forlorn in their Bandstand apartment while Salman was being operated upon in the US.
Uncharacteristically, Salim had barely spoken then, tense as he awaited news of what was going on in the operation theatre across the seas. “I’ve been through this myself when I went into hospital for something as simple as a dental procedure a couple of years ago and something went horribly wrong. I nearly died that day on the table. So I’m doubly aware that even a simple surgery can, God forbid, go wrong,” he explained his anxiety.
Not only did Salman emerge healthier from the experience but he also delivered one of his most robust box office hits. Undeniably, Ek Tha Tiger is high Bond-like entertainment with Salman’s pure charisma carrying it even beyond the end credit titles as he and Kat prance to a feisty Mashallah after the film is over.
Having said all the politically correct things about an unarguable blockbuster, it’s somewhat disconcerting that its director Kabir Khan seems to be growing only in the narrow territory of Afghanistan (Kabul Express), Islamic extremism (sympathy for terror-murderer on US soil in New York) and an Indo-Pak face-off (Ek Tha Tiger). In New York, his sequences of John Abraham vis-a-vis the American authorities had a strong resemblance to the Pak film Khuda Ke Liye where an innocent Pakistani (actor Shaan) was similarly shown to be tortured in the US by the State.
Unfortunately, lost in all the hype about its highly valued commercial status is the sub-text of ETT where Kabir Khan repeatedly shows the ISI and RAW as two sides of the same coin. It’s offensive because the Indian side does not indulge in the kind of terror sponsorship that ISI is notorious for. Take the recent example of Assam and ISI’s hand in uploading misleading, subversive content to fan a huge communal divide inside India. Unlike the mischievous, destabilise-your-neighbour agenda of ISI, RAW has never gone under the international scanner for any such subversive activity. So how dare anybody show ISI and RAW as two faces of the same personality?
A few with whom this was discussed said that it didn’t matter in a make-believe Bond film where it was all about Salman’s brawn and screen presence. Agreed. But somewhere one can’t help feeling that Kabir (whose secular credentials one doesn’t doubt) seems to have got so carried away with his Indo-Pak bhai bhai representation that he not only did the Indian side an injustice but also didn’t pay enough attention to the rest of the script. You had a scientist as the pivot around which Katrina and Salman meet. The scientist is so vital to the Indian and Pak sides (both sides are equal, see?), that the local sleuths are not sufficient to keep an eye on him — top agent Tiger has to be brought in, even if it is only to play nanny to the scientist. But once the ISI and RAW spies fall in love, the plot lightens and the scientist is left inexplicably out of it for the rest of the film. That is only one of the many holes in the script. Unlike Dhoom 2 where Hrithik Roshan as ace villain Aryan is shown to be outsmarting everybody in the game, top RAW agent Tiger does nothing brilliant in outmanoeuvring an opponent. It’s brawn and body all the way. Along with Salman’s charisma and the loads of action, if a little bit of smartness had been shown in the script, ETT would’ve been the perfect commercial film to watch.
Hopefully, Yash Raj will do that in Tiger 2 which, as the ending suggests, is begging to be made. Meanwhile, isn’t it ironic that Pakistan goes and bans Ek Tha Tiger? Rightly, democratic India doesn’t believe in such bans and therein lies another big difference between them and us, Mr Kabir Khan.
The chemistry between Salman and Katrina was as cold as the frozen North Pole, with Kat appearing almost frigid around Khan. There is obviously the remnant of a relationship still lingering for her to be so stiff and conscious of him even on screen. The fact is, they do continue to have much in common between them, including Reshma Shetty, the sharp business manager who steers their work. Salman’s endorsement of a chappal brand (in this ad he even wears chappals while mountaineering) is already on air. And now Katrina, contrary to her chic Brit image, has also shot an entire campaign for a brand of casual slippers. Togetherness right down to the foot?
Wonder if it struck Salman that it is bÍte noire John Abraham who is the original chappal man. John dares to wear chappals even with formal suits.
Bharathi S. Pradhan is editor, The Film Street Journal