Let’s get some important facts out of the way. Ek Tha Tiger is better than the nonsensical rubbish that has made Salman Khan the undisputed BO king in the last two years (Wanted,Dabangg, Ready, Bodyguard). It looks like a film that had a script and a story (at least to begin with). It does not rely solely on Salman Khan standing in the frame and mouthing bombastic one-liners and signature dialogue (it does tries this, but without much success). It has a female lead that has more screen time with her dialogue than her dancing (that’s big). And for all these reasons, it will certainly garner a thumping opening, but is unlikely to beat his previous mark. It is more urban in it’s treatment and settings, and may lack the absolute mass appeal of his other films.
Then again, it’s Salman and anything is possible.
The coming together of India’s most reputable production house and Bollywood’s biggest film star has been the subject of immense hype and speculation. The canvas matches the expectations. ETT is a big budget action extravaganza set in Iraq, Ireland, Turkey, and Cuba, against the backdrop of a RAW v/s ISI conflict. Coming from the Yashraj stable, you are assured of a film that at least meets a certain basic quality. Richly shot and technically polished, it’s certainly good looking film. And when you spend half the film in extreme close-ups of the Salman and Katrina, it becomes an even better looking film. By the time Salman’s entry followed by a frantic opening chase action sequence ends, you think the 100cr mark is easy pickings.
And I think that was the Yashraj plan. Take Salman Khan in his prime, put him in a big budget production where Salman does what he does in much more expensive frames, and watch the moolah come in. Because at the end of it, ETT is an average film with limited aspiration. With an envious war chest at his disposal, director Kabir Khan actually aims for very little with the film itself. If it’s primarily an action film, the set pieces are not exactly spectacular. The chase scene in Havana had a few bright moments – thanks mainly to Katrina – but generally the action sequence lacks the pulsating excitement and the adrenaline rush that you associate with such a film. Neither the train fight in Ireland, nor the final chase, which purely from a thrills point of view is lame and uninspiring, provide this spark. It shows how all the money cannot make good the lack of ideas. This year’s Agent Vinod was an example of how intelligent and well-written action scenes can easily engage without going ballistic on budget.
Most scenes are set up exploring real locations where the film is shot, and undoubtedly makes for attractive viewing. What follows is unfortunately a letdown, as there’s not one scene that is either gushingly romantic, incredibly funny, heart stoppingly exciting, or intensely dramatic. This is the basic problem with ETT, that it fails to engage at any level. It’s down to a combination of factors, but mostly to the writing – half baked character setups, lack of serious conflicts, weak dialogue – that end up making it a timid parody of what it could have been; be it a well crafted spy thriller or an out and out Salman blockbuster.
The story itself, though far more cohesive than any recent Salman film, is a bit of a drag. The setup takes the entire first half, and at over 75 minutes, is way too long. The track with Roshan Sheth – a delicious cameo from a real pro – is created purely for Salman and Katrina to meet, but conveniently forgotten afterwards. In fact, most plot points are manufactured purely to prop up the love story, and therefore weaken the narrative’s dramatic impact greatly in all other areas. The discovery of Katrina’s real identity is clichéd, and given that it’s a major “twist”, leaves you wishing for a more imaginative turn of events. There’s an attempt to capture Salman’s deadpan attempt at comedy as a humorous track through the film. The scene when Salman teaches Katrina to pronounce “tangdi”, a rather unsuccessful attempt given her foreign origins, works very well. It’s a tongue in cheek take on a situation that probably happens exactly the same way in real life too. But this is an aberration, and nothing in the film is able to stir a real response otherwise.
A clear Eid weekend and a massive number of shows mean ETT will have Salman storming the box office. While slightly more deserving than it’s predecessors, it’s lack of character almost makes you wish for their campiness and over the top flavor. At least you had something to whistle for.
Oh well. Didn’t someone say critics are never happy?
Hindi, Action, Romance, Thriller, Color