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EMERYVILLE, Calif. — There are some things that Hindi films do very, very well — blazing love stories, infectious dance numbers and gloriously splashy star turns.
Mix them up in the wrong concentrations and you have a mess on your hands. But Kabir Khan’s Ek Tha Tiger (There Was a Tiger) skillfully blends those elements into a smashing summer movie, complete with beautifully shot foreign locations, superior action and a high-wattage attraction between its two stars, Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif.
The patriotic thriller — about an Indian spy (Khan) and the comely Pakistani enemy agent who falls in love with him (Katrina Kaif) — has surpassed even its high expectations at the box office, breaking first-day records with the auspicious confluence of an Eid holiday release and India’s Independence Day.
Robust business overseas on more than 110 U.S. screens, and enthusiastic word of mouth, is bound to cement Khan’s position as India’s top box office draw.
In recent hit films such as Wanted, Dabangg, Ready and Bodyguard, the muscle-bound Khan has cultivated a playfully heroic persona wrapped in a wholesome, all-India package.
His films feature no bad language and only cartoonish violence, and appeal to the broadest spectrum of the mainstream Indian audience. Oh, and he strips to his naked chest in just about every film, a convention that his female fans have come to expect.
Khan’s wholesome public image now is in clear contrast to his previous avatar as Bollywood’s bad boy: a long list of wrongful acts has tainted the actor’s personal life in the past (including charges of hit-and-run drunk driving and of hunting endangered species, both of which were dropped). As the founder of an NGO called the Being Human Foundation, he is now lauded by fans and the industry as an influential philanthropist, which no doubt boosts his credibility in these larger-than-life roles.
In Ek Tha Tiger, Khan plays “Tiger,” a spy for India’s Research and Analysis Wing (equivalent to the American CIA), who is sent to Dublin, Ireland, to observe an Indian scientist at Trinity College (Roshan Seth) who is suspected of working with Pakistan’s intelligence agency.
In Dublin, Tiger meets a young Indian-origin dance student, Zoya (Kaif), and the tough-as-nails spy discovers that he is falling in love for the first time.
Kabir Khan (New York) humanizes Tiger with humorous early scenes in the film showing this bachelor’s prosaic day-to-day existence — the man buys milk every morning in his PJs just like everyone else in his Delhi neighborhood, and knows how to cook a mean dal-rice.
As Tiger’s relationship with Zoya starts to become dangerous and the mission gets more deadly, director Khan deftly shifts the tone of the film to that of a slick, believable thriller.
Kabir Khan has captured the most colorful sides of his foreign locations in Ireland, Turkey, Cuba, Thailand and India; and he has cast Ek Tha Tiger with strong actors in supporting roles (intense Ranveer Shoreyas Tiger’s colleague, and Girish Karnad as his gruff agency boss).
Salman Khan, too, deserves credit for his own shifts in tone from whimsical comic to ruthless spy to vulnerable lover. His onscreen chemistry with Kaif, with whom he has shared a long relationship offscreen, sizzles as well: their Moroccan-themed dance number, “Mashalla,” played during the closing credits and choreographed by Vaibhavi Merchant, is alone worth the ticket price.
Production: Yash Raj Films
Cast: Salman Khan, Katrina Kaif, Girish Karnad, Ranveer Shorey, Roshan Seth
Director: Kabir Khan
Screenwriters: Kabir Khan and Neelesh Misra
Producer: Aditya Chopra
Executive producers: Aashish Singh, Brendan McCarthy, John McDonnell
Director of photography: Aseem Mishra
Action consultant: Conrad E. Palmisano
Choreographers: Vaibhavi Merchant, Ahmed Khan
Costume designers: Arun Chauhan, Alvira Khan, Ashley Rebello,
Editor: Rameshwar S. Bhagat
Music: Sohail Sen, Pritam Chakraborty
Unrated, 133 minutes .
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