'Tiger Is Alive' ('Tiger Zinda Hai'): Film Review

TIGER ZINDA HAI - Still 1 - Yash Raj Films - Publicity- H 2017
Courtesy of Yash Raj Films
A boilerplate Bollywood thriller enlivened by an inspiring, melodic score.

A burly Indian agent and his long-legged wife, a lethal Pakistani operative, team up to fight a fictitious ISIS-esque terrorist organization in this action sequel for Bollywood muscleman Salman Khan.

Loosely based on the true story of the rescue of 40 Indian nurses held captive by ISIS in 2014, Tiger Is Alive (Tiger Zinda Hai) lacks the tautness and twists of the 2012 original, There Was a Tiger (Ek Tha Tiger), but an exciting music score and high-quality fight scenes go a long way toward keeping interest up during its two-hour-45-minute running time.

Thanks to lead Salman Khan's reputation as a reliable box- office dynamo, commercial expectations are high for this sequel, which is expected to beat out a competing comedy, Fukrey Returns.

At the end of There Was a Tiger, Khan's character, Research and Analysis Wing agent Avinash Singh "Tiger" Rathod, was presumed dead somewhere in Cuba; when we first meet him in the sequel, he's enjoying family life with his wife Zoya (Katrina Kaif) and their young son (an endearing Sartaaj Kakkar) in a cozy chalet in the Austrian Tyrol.

When a snarling pack of wolves threatens to ruin a father-son sledding afternoon, viewers get a crash course in the awesomeness of Tiger at work: sure, he could annihilate these bloodthirsty predators with his bare hands, but with an impressionable kid looking on, is that really a message he wants to convey? (It's also a timely PR move: Earlier this year, Khan beat a wildlife poaching case in a Jodhpur court after claiming the endangered blackbuck deer he was accused of shooting died of natural causes).

Iraqi terrorists kidnap the nurses — 25 Indian and 15 Pakistani — creating a dilemma for India's intelligence service: India and Pakistan are in no diplomatic state of mind to collaborate on their rescue, while the U.S. is itching to bomb the terrorists' headquarters. On a tight deadline, India tracks down Tiger in Austria to enlist him for the mission, and after assembling a crack team of explosives experts and hackers, Tiger shows up to raise some hell in Iraq.

Like in the original film, Tiger Is Alive deftly walks a fine line between jingoism and genuine patriotic fervor, and its characters' ability to overcome 70 years of animosity between India and Pakistan is beautifully captured in a scene where spies from both countries trade jibes over cricket, music and movies.

In another scene, perhaps the most exciting in the film, Zoya organizes the daring escape of dozens of young women who have been raped and beaten by their Iraqi captors. As she picks off assailants one by one with a combination of scissor kicks, dagger thrusts and assault rifle blasts, singer Jyoti Nooran's deep alto booms on the soundtrack over an electro-rock Sufi track, giving voice to the women's fury. Clad in black burkas, they run through the opulent, gilded halls of an Iraqi palace to freedom.

Songwriters Vishal Dadlani and Shankar Ravjiani and background score composer Julius Packiam contribute a gorgeous score used at just the right moments onscreen, wrapping up nicely with a swaggering novelty number over the closing credits.

Distributor-production company: Yash Raj Films
Cast: Salman Khan, Katrina Kaif, Paresh Rawal, Anupriya Goenka, Sajjad Delfrooz
Director-screenwriter: Ali Abbas Zafar
Producer: Aditya Chopra
Director of photography: Marcin Laskawiec
Costume designers: Alvira Khan, Ellawadi Leepakshi, Ashley Rebello
Music: Vishal Dadlani, Shekhar Ravjiani, Julius Packiam
Editor: Rameshwar S. Bhagat
Stunt director: Tom Struthers
Choreographer: Vaibhavi Merchant

In Hindi, 165 minutes