White Guy Watches Bollywood

A random white guy engages with contemporary Indian cinema... one movie at a time

Hindi Movie Review: Tiger 3 is bigger, more outrageous, and even more fun than its predecessors

Salman Khan reprises his role as the eponymous character in "Tiger 3," here reviewed by White Guy Watches Bollywood.

Over the span of just three films, the Tiger series has undergone the same level of metamorphosis that the Fast and Furious saga took seven entries to realize. The first movie, Ek Tha Tiger, was a relatively modest, romance-infused spy story that leaned into the relationship between leads Tiger (Salman Khan) and Zoya (Katrina Kaif). The second installment, Tiger Zinda Hai, replaced the freewheeling, jet-setting tone of its predecessor with a much more intense, realistic, action-packed rescue narrative set in war-torn Iraq. This third film turns the knobs on both the drama and the action up to 11, delivering something much more akin to a superhero blockbuster. Salman Khan may not do as many of his own stunts here as Tom Cruise does in the Mission: Impossible franchise, but he’s definitely aiming for something every bit as spectacular.

Such a pronounced tonal shift within a single movie series can be jarring and unwelcome when the filmmakers aren’t equipped to handle it. The main reason that the Fast and Furious movies pulled off their transformation is because the more over-the-top they got, the better made they were (peaking with Furious 7). For the most part, Tiger 3 can claim success in this regard. Especially coming after the similarly-styled Pathaan, the last entry in what is being dubbed as the “YRF Spy Universe” (of which the Tiger films are also a key part), the pivot towards a more outlandish and operatic tone seems to make logical sense. But the film is also very well executed: under the steady hand of director Maneesh Sharma (2010’s Band Baaja Baaraat, 2016’s Fan), this is arguably the most polished filmmaking we’ve seen in a Tiger movie to date.

For as much as the tone of Tiger has evolved, the filmmakers are still very much committed to advancing the same story that audiences have invested in over the course of the previous two installments. In what should please many fans, this third movie not only furthers Tiger’s mythology, but spends a significant amount of time developing Zoya’s character and delving deep into her past. Tantalizingly, we’re led to question whether Zoya may have turned on her husband, deferring to old allegiances in Pakistan. The antagonist this time around is Aatish Rehman (played by Emraan Hashmi), who early in the film we learn played a key role in Zoya’s life as a young woman following the death of her father. But Rehman is no longer the benevolent presence Zoya once knew: he has a dangerous agenda and capabilities that put the futures of both India and Pakistan at risk, in addition to Tiger and Zoya’s family.

The mystery surrounding Rehman’s objectives and the race to stop his menacing future plans take Tiger and Zoya on another globetrotting adventure, expanding the scope considerably from the second film and more in line with the first (though on an even grander scale). The filmmakers know that one of the keys to a satisfying international spy movie is a variety of locations conducive to big action set-pieces. In addition to India, Pakistan, and Tiger and Zoya’s adoptive home of Austria, this installment takes us to both Saint Petersburg and Istanbul, both of which deliver highly memorable action sequences. In this regard, Tiger 3 gives the other recent country-hopping installment in the YRF Spy Universe, 2019’s War, a run for its money.

The action sequences are first-rate, even if they feel like they borrow heavily from other films at times. A certain motorcycle jump definitely owes more than a little to Tom Cruise – even if it was devised before Dead Reckoning Part One came out – and a skydiving set-piece lifts liberally from Point Break. But could you have better inspirations? I think not. There’s also an awesome car chase, some really viscerally engaging hand-to-hand combat (including one scene where only bath towels cover the characters), fun gunplay, an amazing jailbreak from a prison in the mountains (don’t look down), and some bridge acrobatics that aren’t quite as gasp-inspiring as those in RRR but still deliver on their own terms. It’s also worth noting that the action never feels overdone or hard to visually track, which is a real testament to director Sharma’s craftsmanship given how (entertainingly) over-the-top and ridiculous it often is.

The film also knows how to mine its stars’ respective iconographies well. Even pushing age 60, Salman Khan remains commanding as ever as the eponymous hero. When the film’s supercharged version of Tiger’s theme begins to roar from the theater speakers, it’s hard not to embrace the spirit of what Khan is dishing out in the lead role. Just like Shah Rukh Khan in Pathaan, Salman knows how to be a badass while not taking himself too seriously (which would be more than a little laughable at his age). Additionally, in the most expanded role the series has afforded her, Katrina Kaif delivers her best performance in any of the three movies. To Kaif’s credit, at the beginning of the film we really do entertain the idea that she may have legitimately double-crossed her husband – that’s not an easy task to pull off given how significant a twist it would be. It’s also engaging to learn more about Zoya’s past and how this has informed her relationship with Tiger and her work as a spy.

For all the praise I have for Tiger 3, it also doesn’t aim particularly high, especially compared to Pathaan or (branching outside the YRF Spy Universe) SRK’s other recent film, Jawan. The movie delivers in exactly the ways it sets out to, but it never really goes above and beyond, except for perhaps in the construction of the action sequences. The story is solid, but it doesn’t ultimately deliver any twists that really shock the audience. The social commentary on India and Pakistan is exactly what we’ve come to expect in this type of Bollywood action film; Tiger 3 doesn’t have anything fresh or enlightening to say in this regard. The new villain is compellingly played by Emraan Hashmi and he has credible motivations, but there are no other new characters introduced who make me more excited for the next Tiger installment. The climax is exciting, but also a little too muddled for its own good; there could have been a way to shave 15 minutes from the third act without losing any of the energy. The music is unmemorable (they barely even try with the single), aside from than the vibrant take on Tiger’s theme. This is all to say: while the movie is very satisfying and good at what it does, don’t get your hopes too sky-high.

That all said, between Pathaan and Tiger 3, there is real reason for optimism about the future of the YRF Spy Universe. (By the way, if mention of Pathaan makes you wonder about a certain cameo in this film, rest assured: it’s excellent.) In fact, with the MCU seemingly in the midst of an identity crisis as The Marvels bombs at the box office this weekend, there is a real case to be made that the YRF is the cinematic universe that global moviegoers should be investing in right now. These are just plain fun, well-made movies to sit back and enjoy, and I can only hope that after a brief hiatus next year, 2025’s War 2 and Tiger vs. Pathaan continue the current hot-streak.

Rating: ★★★½ (out of ★★★★★)

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