Happy Tubelight Monday!!! Only 4 days left until the “real” Tubelight day. Or maybe 3 if we are lucky and there is a last minute Thursday release in America. So, let’s talk about Kabir Khan and Salman and their first collaboration, Ek Tha Tiger.
I was very surprised to discover that I enjoyed Ek Tha Tiger. I only went in the first place because there was supposed to be a teaser for Jab Tak Hain Jaan attached to it. And then I enjoyed it!
(If only the movie had been as good as the teaser. Aditya, you and your brilliant editing skills tricked me again!)
See, I was dreading it because Salman was soooooooo old to be playing a super spy, and Katrina is not always the most entertaining co-lead, and it was promoted as this “Hollywood-style action” thing, and if I want to see Hollywood-style action, I will just watch a Hollywood action movie.
But turns out, Kabir Khan was somehow able to pull out something completely new from the Salman Khan onscreen persona. New, but familiar. It felt like another aspect of the man we all already knew, not a reinvention exactly, but a refocusing.
This Salman is still a superhero and a superstar. But he is a little sad at the center of it all. Lonely. Spending his life serving others instead of thinking about himself. Sure, all the neighbor ladies have a crush on him, but that doesn’t do him any good, he doesn’t even notice it.
This is the Salman we all kind of knew from public appearances and interviews, only he had never been brought forth so perfectly before. Hardworking, enormously successful, beloved by all, and yet with nothing just for himself. He always serves others, his fans, his friends, his family, could never bring himself to just be selfish.
And that’s the purpose of the fight scenes. Not to make us all go “oooo, Hollywood level effects!” But to make us appreciate how “special” Salman is, how competent in his chosen field. Almost into a superman. And then, immediately, we are reminded that under that “superman”, is just a “man”. A kind of tired kind of sad middle-aged man who returns from his exciting adventures to a small sad apartment.
Of course in real life it’s not a small sad apartment, it’s a small happy crowded apartment, Salman has plenty of people in his life who love him just for him, not for the superman persona. But an essential part of that love is the responsibility he feels in return. Responsibility that comes not because he is a superstar, but just because he is the oldest son of the family, a family which went through a lot of turmoil when he was at just the right age to bear the brunt of it, and to get the habit of acting as a shield and supporter to his younger siblings.
Ek Tha Tiger isn’t about that at all, about a man with a lot of siblings who has to take care of them, really the only similarities with the “real” Salman and the film Salman are that he is an older bachelor. And even that is very different, in “real” life, Salman is an older bachelor who has had a series of serious relationships that never panned out for whatever reason, and who has plenty of family even without a marriage thanks to his siblings and nieces and nephews. Whereas the film Salman is an older bachelor who, it is implied, has never had any romantic relationships at all, and has no family either.
But somehow Kabir Khan hooked into the underlying tragedies of Salman’s life. Instead of making him from a young age feel responsible for his family, and with a need to sacrifice his own happiness for theirs, Kabir makes Salman a character who dedicated himself to serving the nation at a young age, who constantly sacrificed his own happiness for the country. The same grounded feeling of purpose that the “real” Salman gets from his family, the “reel” Salman gets from his service to the country. He didn’t have 50 empty years, he had 50 full ones, doing something he loved for people he loved. It’s only now, suddenly, that this isn’t enough.
And with this strong sense of Salman, lonely and sacrificing and unable to take anything for himself, comes a strong sense of what Katrina is, or could be, to whom. And that brings along a sense of Katrina, a sense I have never gotten from any of her other movies. This is my favorite role of hers, I think because it was built around what she could mean to someone else, rather than trying to start with her character on its own. She isn’t just the pretty perfect ideal, she is a particular warm living person that is needed by Salman.
Kat, in this film, is cut off from her homeland, lonely, dedicated, never doing anything for herself or feeling like she has anything to call her own. Salman finds in her someone who can make him the first person, someone who can sacrifice for and love him, instead of the other way around. And Kat finds, in return, a whole world of love and support.
Which, from the outside, appears to be what attracted the two of them in real life. Kat was looking for a family and found it in the warm and accepting Khan household. Still has it there, still spends every birthday at the Khan family apartment, every holiday. She was a teenager living in a strange country where she didn’t even know the language, and she also seems to be someone who is slow to open up in general. But Salman, and his family, were able to break through her reserve and make her feel at home. That is what attracts Katrina to Salman in this film. Not that he is all handsome and action hero-y and stuff. But that he is sweet, and listens to her stories about her dead father, and makes her feel safe and cared for.
Meanwhile, for Salman, he wanted someone who would put him first, with whom he could be silly and happy and irresponsible. In real life, a teenage model with no connections to the film industry or anyone else Salman already knew, who probably didn’t even realize what a big deal he was when they first met, must have been a wonderful breath of fresh air. To be able to be just a person, not Superstar Salman, and also not Big Brother and Pillar of the Family Salman. That’s what we see here. Salman, the super spy who never lets himself relax, coincidentally is thrown together with a carefree young grad student. And gets to slowly learn how to be just a person again, just a regular happy person.
(Every time I watch this song, I just want them to get back together in real life and be this happy for real)
That’s what I am hoping we will see again in Tubelight, a story which seems totally unrelated to “real” Salman, but which is familiar on some deep level based on what we know of his life. The fact that Sohail is cast as his co-star is a good sign for that.