This past Christmas, like almost all others, my family partook in our annual tradition of going to the movies. In the past, I have dragged my parents to the latest critically-acclaimed Hollywood release, from “The Wolf of Wall Street” to “Lion.” This year, however, with no offerings of “The Post” or “I, Tonya” at my local theaters, I was left with such few options that I became amenable to the idea of seeing a Bollywood film. Little did I know that I would later regret this decision thanks to “Tiger Zinda Hai.”
Action-packed and adrenaline-fueled, “Tiger Zinda Hai” is Bollywood’s answer to Christmas weekend 2017, and its delivered thus far, with the highest opening day of any Bollywood film in 2017 at over $17 million. The film serves as a sequel to 2012’s “Ek Tha Tiger,” which was so forgettable to me that my mom and had to remind me of the basic plotline and resolution.
In “Ek Tha Tiger,” Salman Khan played a top agent for RAW, India’s foreign intelligence service, who falls hopelessly in love with a top ISI, Pakistan’s counterpart agency, agent played by Katrina Kaif. The film ends with suspense suggesting that Khan, also known as Tiger, has been killed in action.
It is from this premise that “Tiger Zinda Hai” is born because, fear not our beloved fans, Khan would never be subject to such a demise! Instead, he and Kaif left their day jobs for a quaint life of love and family in Bollywood’s favorite snowy romantic destination, the Alps!
Of course, such an idyllic life can never last for too long. Both are called into duty to serve their countries when a terrorist organization, ISC, holds a group of 25 Indian nurses and 15 Pakistani nurses hostage in Iraq, which is actually based on a real-life incident in 2014, in which 46 Indian nurses were held hostage by ISIS. Khan assembles a team of top RAW agents to embark on this mission putting into play of what, even I admit, is an ingenious, if not difficult-to-pull-off, plan of trickery and decoy.
When ten out of the first 30 minutes of a movie are devoted to a fight scene of man against pack of wolves, you develop a clear understanding of the priorities of the film early on. “Tiger Zinda Hai” packs a literal punch when it comes to impressive stunts and fight scenes that dominate the almost 3-hour film. While action movies can sometimes fail to have enough real substance behind them, the problem with this movie is that it attempts to pack in too much substance here so that nothing can be taken seriously as the real thematic arc of the movie.
The growth of terrorism in the Middle East due to Western imperialism, capitalism, and neocolonialism? The repairing of years of contentious India-Pakistan relations in symbolic gestures? The hypocrisy and evils of drone warfare? The dominance of the Indian military and espionage over American power and strength? The empowerment of women through developing skills in self-defense? You name it, “Tiger Zinda Hai” has it. Unfortunately, by attempting to approach each of these complex themes, the film compromises their depth.
Beyond the general superficiality of these tropes, there is an added cringe-worthy cheesiness level that makes it difficult not to groan while watching. Of course, the terrorist head of ISC is fluent in Hindi. An American CIA agent has an accent that sounds European. The patriotic one-liners are so saccharine that they made me nauseous. I turned and rolled my eyes at my mom more times than she would have liked during the film.
The film’s saving grace is Paresh Rawal, whose comic talents provide some laugh-out-loud moments throughout. His timing and character development are a much-needed relief in this film that may have otherwise been a straight-up guns and bombs show. For all those diehard Salman Khan fans, however, I cannot deny that he is in his element and pulls of his role with ease. His victories become the audience’s victories and I found myself transported from New York to Mumbai as many in the theatre cheered and clapped.
I suppose those that were cheering and clapping are more forgiving souls than I am or perhaps not critical viewers that were easily swept up in the action, stunts, and melodrama of it all. If you’ve been eagerly waiting to hear that Tiger’s alive after all since “Ek Tha Tiger,” then you’ll likely feel the same way. But, if like me, you couldn’t have been less enthused by this, then “Tiger Zinda Hai” will likely make no positive impact on you, especially in a new year of (hopefully) better films.
Saumya Bhutani is a graduate of Vassar College, where she majored in History and minored in Biology. She wrote her thesis on the relationship between beauty ideals and the changing roles of women in India in the late 1970s. Saumya is an aspiring physician but also considers herself a history aficionado and pop culture junkie.
March 20, 2023March 21, 2023 4min readBy Nida Hasan
If you are a South Asian, born in the ’80s or the early ’90s, chances are your ideas of love and romance are heavily influenced by Hindi films — that first gaze, the secret love notes, that accidental meeting somewhere in Europe, over-the-top gestures and dancing around trees. While reality may have been far from what was promised on reel, you still can’t stop pining over a hopeless romantic, with chocolate boy looks, chasing you across the earth and many universes; in the life here and the ones after. Somewhere deep down, you still dream of that possibility despite your husband sitting and sipping his morning coffee right next to you. And much of the credit for weaving this dreamland, that we can’t resist happily sliding into, goes to the legendary Yash Chopra. Award-winning filmmaker Smriti Mundhra’s docu-series, “The Romantics,” that released on Netflix on February 14, chronicles Chopra’s prolific career; offering an illuminating look into the highs and lows of his journey, his unblemished vision for Hindi cinema and sheer love for filmmaking.
I wanted to look at Indian cinema through the lens of it being a major contributor to the global cinema canon and Yash Chopra seemed like the perfect lens to explore that because of the longevity of his career and the fact that he had worked across so many different genres. His films, for so many of us, defined what Hindi cinema is.
— Smriti Mundhra
As “The Romantics” unveils, in a mere episode — a challenging feat in itself — Chopra did experiment with multiple genres as a budding filmmaker, initially under the shadows of his elder brother B.R. Chopra. From the religiously sensitive “Dharamputra” and the trendsetting “Waqt” to the action-packed and iconic “Deewaar.” It wasn’t until later on in his career that he set a precedent for a Hindi film having a wholly romantic narrative; though “Waqt” did offer the perfect glimpse into what would go on to become Chopra’s cinematic imprint. And then came “Chandni” which ushered in a new era for Hindi cinema; defying the formulaic approach to box office success and making love stories the golden goose.
In the words of more than 30 famous faces, a host of archival videos and interviews, and personal anecdotes, audiences get an extensive insight into the life and career of Yash Chopra and the evolution of his vision through the business acumen and genius of his polar opposite son and a famous recluse, Aditya Chopra. “The Romantics” is not a fancy portrait of a legendary filmmaker but an exploration of what goes into making a successful film family and a path-breaking production house. As viewers, we not only get a peek into the making of a fantasy creator but also learn of the many failures, hurdles and uncertainties that the business of filmmaking comes packaged in, the impact of socio-political shifts on the kind of content being produced and demanded, and just how much control we have as an audience over the fate of the film and the filmmaker.
For both the uninitiated and fanatics, there are some interesting revelations like Shah Rukh Khan’s lifelong desire to become an action hero as opposed to a romantic one and the creative conflict between Aditya Chopra and his father Yash Chopra on the sets of “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge” — a project that, surprisingly, did not seem too promising to the latter. Mundhra penetrates deep into the family’s history and industry relationships evoking some really candid conversations; almost as if these celebs were eagerly waiting for their moment to speak. With one appraising interview after the other, it’s a panegyric that does border on being a tad tedious but there is enough depth and fodder in there to keep one hooked. Kudos to Mundhra for managing to achieve cohesion despite there being more than enough material to chew on. In the process of bringing this project to life, Mundhra also ends up achieving a number of milestones: one that the series features the last of actor Rishi Kapoor’s interviews and two, it brings Aditya Chopra, who, it appears, can talk a blue streak contrary to popular belief, to the front of the camera after almost two decades. The moment when he puts the nepotism debate to rest by referring to his brother’s catastrophic attempt at acting is quite the show-stealer.
At some point during the four-episode series, you might question if it’s fair to credit the Yash Raj family for being the only real changemakers of the Hindi film industry and for picking up the baton to get Hindi cinema the global recognition that it has. But then there is no denying the Chopra clan’s body of work, their ability to understand what pleases the crowd and their commitment towards growth and progress amidst changing times and technology — Yash Raj Studios is in fact the only privately held and one of the biggest, state-of-the-art film studios in India. Chopra’s career and legacy are in no way under-lit that Mundhra can claim to throw new light on with “The Romantics.” But what she really has on offer here are sheer nostalgia, some fascinating discoveries and an ode to a cinephile and his art with a bit of fan service.
In an interview with Brown Girl Magazine, Mundhra discusses why it was so important for Chopra to be the subject of her docu-series, her own learnings during the series’ research and creative process and her accomplishment of getting Aditya Chopra to talk, and that too, at length.