The dangerous pseudo-liberalism of Tiger Zinda Hai

The basic premise of the film is laughable and alarming.

By Subhash K Jha | Updated: Dec 23, 2017, 12:45 PM IST

In what is unmistakably designed as a rabblerousing highpoint in the narrative, a Pakistani ISI agent hoists an Indian flag atop a speeding car. A little while later an Indian agent does the same with the Pakistani flag.

One thing is for sure in Tiger Zinda Hai. The always seems to 'flag'.

But hold on to your anthems. Has director Ali Abbas Zafar noticed? India is in a war-like situation with Pakistan. Tokenized flag-waving is no more a desirable fantasy.

Hence, when a Pakistani ISI agent sighs and fantasizes, "How wonderful it would be if Lata Bibi, Kishore Kumar Saab and Rafi Saab performed on stage together with Nusrat Fateh Ali and Abida Parveen," we can only giggle in embarrassment.

Cultural exchanges may have seemed like a great idea a few years ago when Gulzar and Vishal Bhardwaj would sneak into the neighbouring country to indulge in sher-o-shayari and return home praising the warmth hospitality and kebabs.

Now, given the vitiated atmosphere and the soured relations, it seems like a joke to suggest that biryani diplomacy can bring the two nations together.

Katrina Kaif, playing the eponymous Tiger's Pakistani wife, sounds like Gulzar Saab when, during an agonizing moment of political and cultural stock-taking, she speaks of the aam insaan on the sides of the border being equally anxious for peace.

"We lost so many children in the school attack," she adds for political savvy.

This school-level politics runs through Tiger Zinda Hai in embarrassing strokes of political guilelessness. The script is one lengthy curled up flag-union between the two countries. The basic premise being this: that both India and Pakistan must fight the Common Enemy - terrorism.

Wow, why didn't the successive governments on both sides think of that?

The irony of arguing in favour of cross-border kinship escapes Tiger Zinda Hai completely. It's a film that takes itself too seriously and takes its counter-terrorism statement too literally. 

In the preamble, Salman Khan, in a laughably done display of CGs, combats a pack of wolves to save his son (called 'Junior', as in 'Junior Salman'). Later, Salman combats terrorists to save a little boy from jihad-related suicide bombing. The little boy fitted with fool-proof bombs sits across Salman at a roadside cafe.

"You have such innocent eyes," Salman drawls paternally. Little boy fidgets nervously. He is a dead giveaway.

If you haven't got the film's anti-terrorism message as yet, you really don't know what Salman's superstardom is about. It's all about achieving everything by doing nothing. In recent films like Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Sultan and even the flawed yet remarkable Tubelight we saw him making an effort to get into character.

In Tiger Zinda Hai, he simply gives up. There is no pretence of acting here. Salman smirks and sniggers his way through every irony, intended or intended, that the silly script throws forward.

The silliness is fun when it doesn't veer to politics. When the script courts politics it gets dangerously jejune.

The suggestion that the ISI and RAW can get together for anti-terror activities is as potentially laughable and alarming as saying a marriage between Ranbir Kapoor and Mahira Khan would solve bilateral issues.

Tiger Zinda Hai merrily mocks the practical pessimism of all the Indo-Pak experts who think it's too late for talks and tokenism. It also mocks at historical facts by taking the real-life rescue of 46 Keralite nurses from the clutches of the ISIS in Tikrit in 2014. By magic, some of those Indian nurses are transformed into Pakistanis, and their rescuers are a team of Pakistani and Indian intelligence agents.

All this, need we add, never happened.

Hence, while Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Padmavati gets stalled for tampering with historical data without being released and viewed, Tiger Zinda Hai gets passed all frowning elements because… well… because Bhai is never wrong.

I wonder why this film was banned by the Pakistani censor board! It is very pro-Pakistan, though by no means anti-India. The only positive takeaway from Tiger Zinda Hai is that that you can be one without being the other.

(Subhash K Jha is a film critic and movie expert)

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL.)