Thursday, November 01, 2012

"Ek Tha Tiger"

This is the famous Bollywood film partially set in Dublin. The main character is an agent for RAW, the Indian secret service, whose codename is Tiger. He is played by Salman Khan; for some reason it seems that all Bollywood leading men have Khan as their surname. First off we see him in Iraq, hunting down an agent who has been lured into defection by the ISI, Pakistan's evil intelligence agency. Then, back in India, Tiger is given a new mission. A brilliant but eccentric Indian missile scientist has retired from the service of India's government and taken a job in the "famous Trinity College Dublin". RAW's fear is that the scientist is planning to pass the details of the anti-missile defence system he designed to Pakistan. Tiger's job is to simply monitor the scientist and find out if he is really up to no good. "Try not to kill anybody this time, Tiger", says RAW's director.

Once in Dublin Tiger tries to ingratiate himself with the scientist, but it proves difficult. So he takes the indirect route, trying to get in with the beautiful British-Indian woman who keeps house for the scientist, claiming as cover to be a writer planning a book about brilliant people (of whom, clearly, the scientist is one). Naturally he starts falling for the woman (cue huge song and dance number in the grounds of my old college).

It also becomes apparent that RAW are not the only people to have sent agents to Dublin. This last brings us to a chase scene through Dublin as Tiger pursues an ISI agent through Temple Bar and then has to climb on top of a LUAS to stop his man getting away. But as if that was not exciting enough, the first half of the film builds to an explosive climax and intermission cliffhanger, details of which I cannot reveal. After that, we bid farewell to Dublin - in true spy film style, the film then takes us on a journey to a number of other exotic locations, in this case Istanbul and Havana. As the latter is somewhere I have been to, it was interesting to compare its somewhat fanciful depiction with that of Dublin.

The climactic motorbike-plane-car chase makes for an astonishing piece of set-piece action, like Momma used to make.

So this is a very enjoyable film. Part of the fun is seeing a slick spy film in my town, being amused by the somewhat universe-next-door depiction of Dublin. I particularly liked the scene where Tiger and the scientist's housekeeper have breakfast on a Liffey boardwalk that has somehow been swept clear of homeless junkies. The suggestion that in Dublin you do not need to lock doors or bikes is one that I hope any tourists from India do not take onboard on their visits. But for all that, it is great fun seeing a well-scrubbed version of my own city appearing as an aspirational location in an international film.

Beyond that, however, I was struck by how the film managed to avoid the reactionary politics that have bedevilled some of the contemporary Bollywood films I have seen (see, for example, A Wednesday. I was expecting something where all the guys from RAW would be depicted as saintly and all the ISI operatives as malevolent thugs. But the film does not deliver on that. Instead, there is an almost John Le Carre like sense of the two rival agencies being mirrors of each other, their ongoing secret war more of a barrier to reconciliation by their countries than something that increases the security of either. It is not quite a cynical spy film in the Bourne mould - at no point does Tiger exclaim that his employers in RAW are all a shower of gobshites - but the film does seem to have a "can't we just get along?" message, with RAW and the ISI as victims of their own South Asian Cold War mindset.

Image source

Watch the Trinity song and dance routine here

An inuit panda production


malayalam sms said...

Ek Tha Tiger :With a fine combination of actor and actress, this film has indeed hit the box office with splendid performance. Yet another Salman's hit movie.

malayalam sms said...

Excellent movie, good direction, screenplay. Excellent action, cinematography, good acting, and reasonable music. Only thing missing was a storyline. But otherwise a well made movie