Let’s not kid ourselves; Ek Tha Tiger and Tiger Zinda Hai were financially successful largely due to the star power of the one and only Salman Khan. Nobody checked into those films to get a history and civics lesson on Indo-Pakistan politics and international diplomacy. The same can be said about War, which banked on the popularity of Hrithik Roshan and Tiger Shroff while emphasizing the leads’ on-screen rivalry. Pathaan did establish the existence of the YRF Spy Universe, but more than the promise of a sprawling franchise, it’s safe to say that everyone thronged the theaters for Shah Rukh Khan. Now, the trailers for Tiger 3, weirdly enough, concentrated on this shared universe aspect, and YRF even released details about the cameos, as if Salman’s presence wasn’t enough to power the film. And you know what? They were probably right.
Maneesh Sharma’s Tiger 3, which has been written by Shridhar Raghavan, opens with the death of Zoya’s father, Rehan Nazar, in a car bombing as he was heading out to stop Pakistan from turning into a dictatorship. Rehan’s friend and colleague, Aatish Rehman, stepped in to take care of a teenage Zoya and trained her to be an ISI agent. In the present day, Tiger is sent by R&AW to rescue his handler, Gopi. During his dying moments, Gopi tells Tiger that, as per his research, Zoya is still working as a double agent. This causes Tiger to be suspicious of Zoya, but his doubts are quelled when Zoya’s dubious actions only amount to the purchasing of a telescope for their son, Junior. Meanwhile, the current Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nasreen Irani, announces her intention to engage in peace talks with India. Tiger’s investigation into an assassination attempt on Irani brings him to Jibran Shaikh, who has to be saved from a bunch of unknown assailants before he leaks some damning information about Pakistan’s inner workings. However, one of those assailants is revealed to be Zoya, who is actually working for Aatish because he has an ailing Junior in his custody. This forces Tiger to do Aatish’s bidding as well, even though it means jeopardizing the ties between India and Pakistan.
Despite being a fan of both War and Pathaan, I’ll gladly admit that Shridhar Raghavan’s screenplays for those two movies aren’t masterpieces. But the big difference between those two movies and Tiger 3 is that War and Pathaan weren’t really concerned with the large-scale repercussions of the movie’s plot, and Tiger 3 is only concerned with the large-scale repercussions of the plot. Both War and Pathaan put the focus on the power of money and vengeance to balance out the nationalism, whereas for Tiger 3, the only thing Shridhar has to offer is nationalism, for the hero and the villain. And I am failing to figure out why. None of the characters have any tangible traits. It’s just a bunch of jingoistic cliches cobbled together and thrown into the mixer in the hopes that it’ll generate some kind of emotion. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t! I’ll say that the hollowness of Tiger’s ventures is consistent, but that’s not really a plus point. Then again, as mentioned before, we are not watching Salman’s movies for the plot. We are here to have fun and scream and hoot at every dialogue. Sadly, dialogue writer Anckur Chaudhry fails the actors in that avenue as well.
Tiger 3 undoubtedly has some of the best action scenes in the franchise as well as in the Bollywood landscape, thereby making them the film’s only saving grace. The choreography, the stunt work, the practical effects, the CGI, the VFX, and the variety of settings (which range from a hammam fight to an explosive battle on a bridge) are all top-notch. It won’t be a stretch to say that those action scenes can give a lot of international movies a run for their money. But there’s an issue. Actually, there are quite a few issues. The action doesn’t match the vibe of the rest of the film. The plot and the dialogues are so unnecessarily self-serious and hyper-focused on being nationalistic that the silliness of the action feels jarring. Despite the effort put into the fights and chases, it rarely says anything about the character. The movie pauses everything to partake in some hijinks, and it seems like the action is occurring in a vacuum while the rest of the film is taking place somewhere else. The action scenes are stretched. As much as I adore Salman and Shah Rukh Khan’s chemistry, I’ll admit that the post-interval spot has swag, but it overstays its “swagat” (welcome). Still, all that is much better than Maneesh Sharma’s direction during the non-action-heavy beats, where he keeps resorting to hypernationalism, complete with a hamfisted national anthem scene that comes out of nowhere and leaves you confused.
When it comes to the performances in Tiger 3, well, it’s bad. Salman Khan really comes alive when he is playing off of Shah Rukh Khan’s comedic but badass energy. There’s something so palpable about their camaraderie that you can watch them take a stroll through a park, formulating some kind of plan while taking swipes at each other’s age, ego, and technical acumen. When Shah isn’t around, Salman has nothing to offer. I mean, Tiger gets betrayed by his wife, his son gets kidnapped, and his colleagues get slaughtered, and Salman offers the bare minimum to make the audience feel invested in the film. He and his stunt double are competent during the action scenes though. Katrina Kaif fares better than Salman, both in the dramatic and the action sequences. Given how the movie starts with her character’s origin story, she should’ve been the focus of the narrative. Unfortunately, the film has to be a Salman Khan vehicle, and that keeps Katrina from shining. Emraan Hashmi is way too generic to care about. That’s something that can be said about the rest of the supporting cast, too, who are just there to serve as reflectors and shine the light on Salman. Deaths don’t mean anything. Character-based plot twists don’t mean anything. The only thing of importance here is jingoism.
In the end, Tiger 3 is a very tiring film, and that is the last thing I want to feel on a weekend during the festival season. I want to have fun. I want to embrace the silliness of the premise and enjoy the execution of its central idea. I want to celebrate the stars on the screen. What I don’t want is a lecture on a certain country’s government being in shambles and their army working with terrorists because it has been done to death. The job of a big-budget blockbuster is to be entertaining first; everything else comes later. If you are prioritizing pandering to majoritarian sentiments over entertainment, then what’s even the point of spending so much money on a theatrically released movie? Make 10 such movies for the small screen that can be easily skipped and leave the big screen festival releases for actual cinema.