I saw this movie 3 times in theaters, mostly because I wanted to watch the Jab Tak Hain Jaan teaser over and over again. But also for itself, it’s a very well-made fun movie. I forgot just how well made and fun until I re-watched it just now.
First, and I don’t usually do this, but I know not everyone will have time to watch/rewatch this movie before Tiger Zinda Hai and it will be helpful to have the plot, so here is the WHOOOOOLE THING:
“Tiger” is Salman Khan, the top RAW agent. It’s very exciting work, but it’s also the only thing in his life, he never takes a vacation or does anything for fun besides cooking himself nice meals in his nice little apartment. His boss teases him about never marrying or having a life or even withdrawing any money from his bank account. But Salman claims to be fine with his little life. And then he goes off on a mission to Ireland to talk to a scientist and figure out if the scientist has been contacted by ISI. And while he is there, he meets and falls in love with the scientist’s young grad student housekeeper, Katrina Kaif. It’s the first time he’s ever been in love and he is a little confused by it, but he tries his best and is kind and thoughtful and cares about her, and she can’t help responding when he does things like arranging for her to watch the stars just like she used to with her father. But then he breaks into the scientist’s house to complete the mission and discovers Katrina there! She is a spy too, but a spy for ISI, a British citizen (thus her accent), but working for ISI in honor of her dead Pakistani father it is implied.
Post-interval, Salman is back in his sad small life, but seeming even sadder. Until he learns that there is a message being sent through the chatter, “Zee TV will be at the conference, will Doordarshan be there?” Which is Katrina’s message to him, so he goes to the conference in Turkey. Where they secretly meet and Katrina wants to just say good-bye, but Salman says he doesn’t want to say good-bye. That night he takes a risk and asks her to dance at the diplomatic dinner. And the next day they have run off together, hiding from both ISI and RAW. They go into hiding in Cuba, but are eventually tracked down and both agencies try to bring them in. Salman tricks his old agency into helping him when Kat is taken by ISI, promising that he will come back and bring Kat with him. But in the end he gives them the slip and he and Kat fly off together, still free.
There is SO MUCH here!!!! First, there is a really clever comic attitude to spy adventures. The majority of the film isn’t Salman as a spy, it is Salman as a regular man thinking back on his spy life. Kat asks him “do you like dogs?” and he remembers being chased by attack dogs through a forest. She asks about dating, and he says he “doesn’t meet nice women” and remembers a series of fight scenes with terrifying female fighters. The point isn’t that Salman is a superspy, it is that he is an awkward human. He can win any fight, chase down the bad guys, solve the code. But he doesn’t know how to handle his own feelings, he is as lost as a teenager when he falls in love. And that’s the skill he really needs, how to be in love. The journey of the character is from a man with no life at all outside of work, to one who is all about life and no work. He awkwardly gets through his first love affair, his first date, his first everything else. And then he takes the plunge all the way, suggests running off and leaving everything behind for love. It’s in the Cuba section that he fully comes to life, happy and free and confident and reborn. Which is what makes it so kind of sad and shocking when Katrina is kidnapped and he has to become the spy again, dress in black and bark orders and generally stop being that happy soft warm guy.
And so Salman’s happy ending is to escape from himself. From the violence and spying and lies, and be a new person, a person who could paint and play cards with old men and love and be happy. In a way it’s also a meta-statement on his stardom. Salman-the-action-hero is being broken down so that the original Salman, Salman-the-lover, can burst out and be born again.
But it is Kat where I think this film really takes flight and turns into something special. She also needs to break free. But in a different way than Salman and for a different reason. We don’t get the explicit discussion with her, but we can figure it out as we watch from the little clues. She starts to open up with Salman when she talks about her father, how he loved to show her the stars, and how he is dead now but she feels like he is with her when she sees the stars. At the conference where she meets Salman again, her supervisor clearly has a close watch on her and she is under strict orders. Her cover story in Ireland is as a graduate student in the dance department, and when they are on the run in Cuba, she teaches dance classes.
So this is a young woman who misses her father. And in order to feel close to him, and because he gave her a love for his country, she signs up to work for ISI. But she also loves to dance and her cover story, as a simple young woman with friends and a life who is intrigued by a shy older man who opens her heart, that’s also a true story. She isn’t like Salman, she isn’t completely ruled by her job yet, in fact she is fighting against that already even before she meets him, trying to have a balance in her life. Salman goes from 100% work and no life, to 100% life and no work. Katrina has in some ways the harder journey, going from 70% work and 30% life to 100% life. She could keep up this life of happy superficial connections to others, pursuing her passion for dance in between missions, and pretend to herself that it made her happy. But Salman is challenging her to throw away everything, her duty and her passion, and start fresh with hope for a better life.
There is a final point Kabir Khan is making, an almost hidden one, which is that Salman and Katrina and their super spy love story is, ultimately, a Romeo and Juliet story. A true Romeo and Juliet story. Salman, like Romeo, sneaks into the enemy camp and falls in love with Juliet by accident. Katrina, like Juliet, resists and then finally agrees. And in the end, a strange peace is achieved by both warring families coming together over this couple.
It’s also, more importantly, a real story of Honor Killings in India and other places in the world. Two families that hate each other will work together to both kill the couple who has been married. There is no longer any sense of “my girl” or “my boy”, by joining together, they have become the enemy of all. And the families will join together in a shared desire to protect their “honor” by killing those who have brought them shame. The spy shenanigans and so on are there to hide the real message, a couple who just wants to be free to love each other.
One of the most important things is that they aren’t asking for anything to help with their freedom. Their adventure is funded by Salman’s savings, that money he earned and never touched for 20 years. This is a happy ending that was long in the making, that they have sacrificed and worked for. And it is wrong for anyone to try to take it from them.
And, my hope is, that the same will be true of Tiger Zinda Hai. The trailer seems to imply it, the couple comes out of retirement in order to save lives and prove that they stand for peace and love. They aren’t doing it for their respective countries or personal pride or anything like that. In an effort to teach their blind “families” what love is really about. And, I hope, the film will end the same way as Ek Tha Tiger, with the two of them happily going off to continue living free lives of love and happiness.