The relationship between a star and his audience is a complicated one. Because it is difficult to ascertain who has an upper hand in this relationship. On a cursory look, it appears the star dictates term in this relationship, throwing whatever he wants at his audience and they lap everything up, sometimes gleefully, at times reluctantly. But dig a little deeper, and you would get to know who actually calls the shot here. And it’s not a surprise, power has always resided where the source of money is. In this case, people who stand in long queues to watch their star perform. And they have already decided how their star should walk, talk, carry himself. Also, nothing riles them more than a star thinking on his own. Ask Shahrukh Khan, for instance. Ask him how much money Swades made at the Box-Office.
And in the last 3-4 years, we have seen a new superstar gracing Bollywood. Someone who’s suddenly made slow-motion, physics-defying action scenes (till now, only restricted to south indian movies) fashionable. Someone who’s been continuously cracking open the doors of 100 crore club with disturbing regularity. Disturbing because, those movies pandered. (Barring Dabang which was aware of its foolhardiness, and reveled in it, unbridled, giving us one hell of a time).
So when this superstar is signed on for a project that dabbles with RAW, ISI, and a motif that’s profound – transcendental love, you know it’s an unsettling combination. Because at one hand the subject matter demands adherence to authenticity, gritty realism, but on the other hand, it has to also accomodate the superstar’s eccentricities. Thus this movie sits gloriously in a no man’s land. It opens to Tiger embroiled in a brawl with a RAW agent who now works for ISI. It’s not only been five minutes and the tropes are firmly in place, Tiger’s boot hits the goon’s face in slow-motion, and what follows after is an extremely long action sequence that simply showcases Tiger’s, scratch that, Salman’s bravado. And you know that it will happen frequently, that the story would stop midway to make way for the superstar. The extent would determine the movie’s merit.
Tiger goes to London for keeping an eye on an Indian scientist who could possibly be colluding with Pakistanis to provide them vital information about the missiles. The scientist is Roshan Seth (an interesting choice for an actor for this kind of a movie). In the scientist’s house, we meet Zoya (Katrina Kaif). And even after all these years in the industry, she barely manages to act. She doesn’t act horribly nowadays is the only compliment one can bestow on her. She can pull off being flippant without being sloppy, but she kills any scene that requires any sort of an emotional credence.
There are multitude of scenes that have no business in a movie like this. Action scenes are so elaborately and clumsily constructed that they border on the annoying. But to be fair, the movie does not go the whole hog with Salman’s stardom too. He isplaying a character, which has become so rare these days that this could even be deemed as ‘envelope-pushing’. Sad. The movie fleetingly touches on some interesting issues — on how secret agents are identity-bereft, on love’s eccentricity, on how difficult it is to be right and happy at the same time. But then expecting the movie to dwell on any of these rather profoundly would be expecting a tad too much. Rather, it channelizes most of its energies on being a crowd-pleaser, and as a result is horribly over-written. (Unnecessary flashbacks that keep telling us what the character is supposed to be thinking, which is pretty evident anyway.)
And given the story is credited to Aditya Chopra, and it’s produced by Yash Chopra, it’s surprising the movie stays away from the cloyingly aman ki asha sentiment. Or as it should be aptly termed ‘Bubblegum Terrorism’, which the Yash Raj Films is not oblivious to. A notable example could be New York, one of the most shoddily made movies on a sensitive, complex topic, directed by the same guy who made this movie, Kabir Khan.
In all ways possible this is a cinematic muddle, the flaws are not as glaring as one would expect from a brainless blockbuster movie, but neither are the movie’s pleasures substantial that would make it meritorious. The superstar keeps getting in the way. I have heard it’s required. So that the movie enters that coveted 100 crore club. And at the time of writing this, the movie has reached the 100 crore club in record time. It’s a way better movie than Ready or Bodyguard so I obviously don’t begrudge its prowl. This would give rise to similar muddled efforts — make the facade intellectually promising, but keep its soul commercially viable. And keep juggling between the two. Because after all, it’s a business like any other, you see.