What Salman Khan's Tiger Zinda Hai can teach you about ISIS threat to India

Absolutely nothing.

 |  5-minute read |   25-12-2017
  • ---
    Total Shares

Somewhere, there is a specific word in German for the catatonic feeling of a middle path between dystopia and despair of going for a 10am screening on a Sunday of a Salman Khan film. Not to mention much of the previous week was spent trying to convince someone else, anyone really, to come and actually watch Tiger Zinda Hai with me. The winner of this honour, a good friend of mine, has told me she will only talk to me again in the year 2035.

Now, as part of my job, I have been researching on ISIS for nearly four years. I have written multiple articles and papers explaining the so-called Islamic State, and curate a daily database that follows the terror groups' influence and its affects in India. So, naturally, I was curious to know how a Bollywood "masala" film is going to tackle a terror group that has caught the world's worst imagination by the jugular. Turns out even as an entertainer, it was a bit too much for my limited "what the F?" capabilities.

tig6900_122517010550.jpg

The spy genre of storytelling is perhaps relatively new to Indian cinema, and this film was the second installation of Salman Khan playing an agent of India's external intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), called in to save Indian nurses from Iraq after the town of Ikrit (creatively named after the actual town of Tikrit) fell to the terror group ISC (modelled on ISIS, just in case the actual ISIS sues for trademark infringement). However, in the beginning, to set-up the film, we of course had to endure a good 20 minutes of product placement as Khan's character "Tiger" fought wolves with his bare hands in Austria for the Austrian tourism board, where he lives with his wife, played by Katrina Kaif, a Pakistani ISI agent, and their son Junior.

Tiger moves in quickly, gathers a team of his trusted troops, all of whom, barring one who's an older gentleman, look like every other Virat Kohli'esque beard clone guy from South Extension in Delhi. They enter Iraq through the town of Al Nusra, now, I don't expect Bollywood films to research, anything, but some basic factual accuracy should be aimed towards because even a quick Google search will show you "Al Nusra" is actually short for Jabhat al-Nusra, an Al Qaeda affiliated jihadi group in the region. "No one cares about these details, keep quiet," my friend, already annoyed, scoffed at me. Barely into the film, my mind was already having Improvised Explosive Device (IED) explosions inside from the storyline.

The premise of the film is basically everything the scriptwriter read about ISIS on WhatsApp forwards. In Ikrit, Tiger and his posse enter as oil refinery workers, infiltrating the ISC's illicit oil trade. Eventually, "Amir al-Baghdadi", who looks more like a failed singer-songwriter than the leader of the dreaded caliphate, catches them. To save them, an Indian labour contractor, played by Paresh Rawal, who took some time off from his political Twitter banalities to earn bread, convinces Baghdadi that if he kills them, ISC will suffer since the labour may go on strike. Wait, what? Hold on. Rewind. So, to end ISC one only needed to form unions and recite labour rights and international trade treaties to them? That's it? Well, you learn something new every day.

tig6900_122517010611.jpg

In the meantime, cut-scene, and we arrive to an arbitrarily inserted storyline of ISC trying to sell oil to the Americans, with Baghdadi strutting around with the US commander in a swish business suit, possibly from the 2017 Armani Jihadi Couture collection. The WhatsApp forwards storyline had now started to try and strike a balance between Middle East's sectarian conflicts and American neo-colonialism. Got to keep everyone happy.

As the movie chugs along, Katrina Kaif's character also enters the storyline, with her own posse of Pakistani agents, to save their own nurses also held in the same compound. Aman Ki Aasha ensues, much to ISCs dismay. Cut-scene to mandatory patriotism and national fervour, as in the middle of war-torn Iraq, one of the Indian R&AW agents announces he's carrying India's flag to unfurl once they finish their mission. Pakistani agents have done the same. Both do it together. More Aman ki Asha ensues.

By this time we are nearly 2.5 hours into the movie and I was nearing the end of my tether. This was too much for a Sunday morning, self-inflicted head wound. But we could see the end was coming, when Tiger had started to single-handedly kill every ISC bad guy around the compound where the nurses were held. The end came, of course, with Tiger killing the head of ISC with a tomato-peeler sized knife, saving Katrina Kaif, freeing the nurses and disappearing back into hiding, finishing up with a song and dance between R&AW and ISI in Greece, or could have been in Gurgaon, I don't know, I had tuned out, the song could well have been called "Tu Mere Dil ka IED" and I would have happily accepted it at this point.

The worst part about all this was that someone who had seen this movie before me said it reminded them of Argo, Ben Affleck's Oscar winning film on how the CIA got stranded American diplomats out of Tehran during the 1979 Iranian Islamic revolution. Rest, I will leave to your imagination, because mine is checking in to rehab.

Also read: Tiger Zinda Hai: How Salman-Katrina thriller kept Twitter busy doing maths

Writer

Kabir Taneja Kabir Taneja @kabirtaneja

The writer is an associate fellow with the Observer Research Foundation's Strategic Studies programme in New Delhi.

Like DailyO Facebook page to know what's trending.