Enter the spy zone of Bollywood, where money, stars, style, and coming of age have their vise-like grip. A big film releasing at Diwali must make more noise inside the auditorium than outside. In a few hours, numbers will be thrown around on social media: both official and narrative on the success of Salman Khan. Coming after Three of Us, 12th Fail, and Shastri Virudh Shastri, this big-budget film will evaluate the box office positions of its makers, movers, and stars. It will overlook niceties, eschewing performance evaluations, and will be viewed through a commercial lens with a brazen mark declaring wealth over content. In fact, the film, in its dying moments, clearly declares its formula and intent:
"Music, music start karo. Leke Prabhu ka naam."
Having made the declaration, the film caters to the altered contemporary paradigm: action over music. Maneesh Sharma keeps the franchise alive and active, taking the baton from Kabir Khan and Ali Abbas Zafar. He ensures he keeps up the pitch, the works, and the action. From open yards to rooftops, through busy streets and dingy homes, from Istanbul to Vienna to Islamabad, punches, bullets, smoke, dust, machine guns, pistols, rough Afghan terrains to palace sets, even sticks and scarfs help build the plan and push the agenda. The YRF spy world works through back-from-exile Tiger (Salman Khan) at the instance of RAW head Maithili Menon (Revathi). This time, even as the dying agent Gopi Arya (Ranvir Shorey) leaves a declaration that the spy-catch is Zoya (Katrina Kaif), the early moments in the film are spent on marital distrust. Zoya’s past shows the young Zoya (Gurkeet Kaur) inspired by Pak-dad Rehan Nazir (Aamir Bashir), witnessing her Dad die in a blast, and now under the tutelage of mentor Aatish Rehman (Emran Hashmi).
The battle lines are drawn. We have Aatish, who holds Junior (Sartaaj Kakak) captive and ensures Tiger and Zoya work to get national secrets. Obviously, after losing girlfriend Shaheen Baig (Ridhi Dogra) in a shootout, the political divide is blurred by personal vendetta. When you have a heady cocktail of the double ‘P’ (patriotism and personal vendetta), the drama gets high voltage. This is the promised premise. Throw in entities like RAW and ISI, and the ‘geo-political’ intrigue also peters into a coup-de-tat at Islamabad, where Aatish plans to replace the peace-speaking Prime Minister Nasreen Irani (Simran). The attempt to pull out secret documents from an Istanbul treasure with Iris identity and kung fu tricks ensures some towelled thigh thrills. Tiger employs old colleague and reliable Rakesh ji (Kumid Mishra) and manages to get the documents. However, the footage shot is a tad too little.
Enter Pathan (SRK – from the other spy branch) to return the earlier favor and in the midst of mind-boggling, physics-defying stunts and thrills earns his whistle moments and clears the gratitude quotient. Back to fight his battles, Tiger now has to rely on Zoya, Rakesh ji, Hassan Ali (Vishal Jetwa), and a team of a few motley characters to keep the story (Aditya Chopra) going. Most of the responsibility lies with the action in charge – a clan that has evolved drastically from the days of Shetty and Veeru Devgan.
Director Maneesh Sharma has the task of moving from ‘make believe’ to disbelief, and with some good support from Sridhar Raghavan (screenplay) and Ankur Chowdary (dialogues), he pushes the envelope packed with a heady mix of dialogue and action, chest-thumping national bravado and enemy caricature, domestic grotesque and neighbor burlesque that keeps the mood up. The action-packed sequences are obviously by design. So, Tiger even declares that one must not waste time watching the small screen (Big Boss saying this!!) and go for the Big Screen for action. While the Pak (ISI) villain threatens a Diwali blast, Tiger warns it is a three-day fest and he celebrates not with fireworks but sweets. It is all fireworks, though. There is an interesting Sholay reference when Pathan and Tiger ride the Sholay bike. The film script and story are strongly based upon heroes insured against enemy bullets, armed with perfectly timed and targeted missiles, and stylized acrobatics, hitherto the Akshay forte. It is also the mainstay of the film.
Of the cast, Katrina Kaif keeps up her Zoya factor and is in her comfort zone. Even given the action factor, she holds her own against the Khans. Me thinks somewhere Salman is aging way too fast and way faster than Tiger. Tiger, in the course of the 157-minute spy saga, declares Yeh kahani meri nahi, Aatish Rehman ki hai. True. Emran Hashmi has a role that tempts him multiple times to cross the bridge. He resists. Successfully. A very polished performance and a fine portrayal of negativity without being brash and crude.
At the theaters post-Diwali, footfalls are worrisome. They suggest a certain hesitation or even collective rejection, and if that be so, the temptation to write off the Khan for being past his prime would be large. That he is. Tiger, not Khan, deserves more acceptance. Perhaps it will catch up. Hopefully it will. There is a promise for more eerie spy thriller at the end of the film.
Pathan, Tiger 3. Now time for Kabir.