There is something about the Salman-Katrina pairing. Something that goes deeper than a real-life affection. Even deeper than that crackling pitch-perfect chemistry that we see among endearing star-pairs, like Raj-Nargis, Rajesh -Mumtaz, Shah Rukh-Kajol...you name it!
Here in "Ek Tha Tiger", we see a look of genuine protectiveness in Salman's eyes every time he looks at Katrina Kaif. That look suits the film's purposes fine. "Ek Tha Tiger" is the love story of two spies from different sides of the border who during the course of their volatile sinister cloak-and-dagger work, fall head over heels in love.
As the lovers flee their enemies, they are pursued by do mulk ke dushman. Which is nine mulk less than where Shah Rukh's Don was wanted.
Salman's spy-hero code-named Tiger cuts through the chase, brings the secret agent's role down to an amiably human level, drawing secret alcoves of childlike vulnerability and, yes, humour from his character's secret life, making the spy's double life look doubly redeemable.
Every time Salman looks at Katrina his eyes melt. Kabir Khan taps the actor's potential to fill up the screen to great advantage. Even while flexing his biceps through four continents in some of the best staged action sequences in some never-seen rugged exotic spots of the earth (full marks to action director Conrad Palamisano) Salman gets lots of very quiet contemplative moments with his beautiful co-star. For once the superstar looks neither bored nor distracted. And he isn't impatient to move on.
Ruminative reflective rich in self-mocking resonances, Salman's spy in "Ek Tha Tiger" is a remarkably restrained and expressive character. He handles both the action and the romantic sequences with seamless empathy.
Katrina gets better with every film. As a woman who had a genuinely happy childhood that has been snatched away by the nature of her profession, her eyes convey infinite pain. She conveys pain and love with as much elan as she kicks ass when the need arises. Yup, this lady rocks.
Kabir Khan whose earlier Katrina starrer "New York" defined Islamic isolation during times of terrorism with gripping gusto, this time, decides to have fun with the espionage genre without trivialising it. The blend of action and romance is achieved with a fluency that we've seldom seen in the action-romance genre.
The storytelling is laced with a loads of humour. Aseem Mishra's camera-work punctuates the pungent drama of lovers on the run, capturing the bustle and the festivity of Ireland, Cuba and Istanbul with much warmth and affection and a detached fascination that is the opposite of touristic curiosity.
Kabir Khan has an eye for everyday details. Though his frames are arranged to convey aesthetics, the beauty of the moments shared by lovers is never defined by their surroundings.
It's a very commonplace attraction seen in umpteenth Hindi films of every hue and variety. What makes director Kabir Khan's telling of this routine love story come alive, is the presentation and packaging, both unique but never over-punctuated.
Epic in design the film has a surprisingly low number of main characters.
Kabir works on building the love story through the intelligently-written interaction between the two protagonists rather than their exotic environment or the incidental characters. Still, Girish Karnad as Tiger's boss and Ranvir Shorey as Salman's buddy-in-arms are first-rate. Never letting the script down.
It's not easy to make an intelligent film on intelligence without tripping over the barbed wires of politics and espionage jargon. Kabir Khan strips the love stories to its bare necessities without diminishing the density of the drama.
"Ek Tha Tiger" is more a passionate love story than an actioner. Brilliantly scripted and deftly directed it's Salman Khan's best film in ages. As for his chemistry with Katrina Kaif, it is the stuff legendary love stories are made of.
Very few films make you sit at the edge of your seat when the hero fights and then makes you recline in sighing submission when he romances his sweetheart, in equal measures.
"Ek Tha Tiger" gets it right.