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Saving Pakistan! Decoding Tiger 3’s bizarre, audacious, controversial plot – Beyond Bollywood

For all its well-meaning intention, some nationalistic fans, few critics aren’t convinced by the logic. One, however, must not forget how once Indian government, intelligence had tipped off Pakistani government, agencies on a terror threat to then Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf.

By Mayur Lookhar

In times when most Bollywood films fail to make an impression, it is rare to find the odd film that strikes a conversation. Albeit controversial, Tiger 3 [2023] deserves credit for evoking a debate due to its bizarre plot. Spoiler alert. If you haven’t watched the film yet, you can choose to walk away from this article. 

An Indian and a Pakistani spy falling in love. Critics, logical audiences, intel officials have long dismissed such trope as fantasy.  Ek Tha Tiger [2012] faced that criticism. The sequel Tiger Zinda Hai [2017] went a step further with Tiger [Salman Khan] and his Pakistani girlfriend, ISI [Inter-Services] Agent Zoya [Katrina Kaif] joining hands to save innocent nurses from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh held captive by ISIS militants in Iraq. A certain template was set. Six years later, producer Yash Raj Films, Aditya Chopra and his screenplay writer Shridhar Raghavan choose to challenge Tiger’s blind faith in the Pakistani agent, now wife to his 8-year-old son.

Salman Khan, Katrina Kaif in Tiger 3 [2023]

India-Pakistan political relationship is perhaps at its lowest. The ultra-nationalism on both sides perhaps made the Tiger-Zoya relationship a figment of fantasy.  Thus Tiger 3 opening with a needle of suspicion around Zoya is exactly the thing that would please the ultra-nationalists. Okay, is Tiger 3 designed keeping the current social, political sentiments in mind? It lulls you into believing it briefly but then the Tiger franchise has been mindful of not demonizing an entire nation. A R&AW [Research and Analysis Wing] agent falling in love with ISI agent and then the duo joining hands for the larger human good was also witnessed in Pathaan [2023]. YRF, director Siddharth Anand, co-writers Abbas Tyrewala, Shridhar Raghavan also braved to add the Saffron touch on Pakistani agent Rubina [Deepika Padukone] via the Besharam Rang song. Yes, it hurt majority sentiments but a female ISI agent donning Saffron bikini had a subtle social, political ethnocentrism to it.

Tiger 3 doesn’t indulge into such tropes. It, however, raises the bar with its extremely bizarre plot. Director Maneesh Sharma, Aditya Chopra [story] and Sridhar Raghavan [screenplay] have been audacious in their move to spread the message of true democracy in Pakistan. Yes, you heard that right democracy in Pakistan. The Islamic country is notorious for its puppet civilian governments with the Army and ISI holding the ‘power’ remote.   

Tiger 3 sees Tiger [Salman Khan] caught, brought to Pakistan where he would be hanged publicly on their Independence Day [14 August]. Apart from spying, the Indian agent will also be accused of killing Pakistani Prime Minister Nasreen Irani [Simran]. Phew, thank God this just in the reel. In the real, such an act would bring the two nuclear-nations to war.  Well, that is what Aatish Rehman [Emraan Hashmi], the rogue former Pakistani Army officer/ISI Agent has masterminded.

So, in the climax we have Tiger [naturally disowned by Indian government], Zoya, few other Indian, Pakistani agents collaborating in personal capacity to thwart Rehman’s evil plan. Phew, Indian agents trying to save Pakistani PM with all the action taking place inside PM House.  That has naturally not gone down well with ultra-nationalists in India, who have been quick in calling for a boycott of Tiger 3, and as often, total boycott of Bollywood. The trends are common on social media, but this audacious plot has left few critics miffed. One veteran scribe/critic expressed surprise as to how this film was cleared by the Central Board of Film Certification.  S/he even went on to add that if s/he was in the Examining Committee, the film wouldn’t have been cleared without the makers obtaining NOC [No Objection Certificate] from the Union government, Armed Forced and Intel agencies.

Indian agent saving Pakistani PM inside PM House of Pakistan. Most would call it preposterous.  Though fat-fetched, but cinematically speaking, this plot has its merits too. More on it later, but first it’s the name Irani that arouses our curiosity. Pakistan is largely controlled by its Urdu-Punjabi speaking population.  An ‘Irani’ is an unusual name for a Pakistani PM.  Pakistan however has had leaders with Iranian descent. The Iran born Nusrat Bhutto served as the Deputy PM of Pakistan between 1989-90.  She was born as Nusrat Ispahani. Her daughter Benazir would go on to become a two-time Prime Minister of Pakistan. 

Tiger 3 aims to spread democracy in Pakistan, a nuclear-state that is largely controlled by its Armed Forces, ISI. It’s a fallacy in the real, but in any society, democratic movements are impossible without the support of the women. It’s here that a Nasreen Irani is ideal for the Indian film and its positive ideology. 

All along, YRF’s Spy Universe has been clear in its thought process. The enemy is Pakistan Armed Forces, ISI, state-sponsored terror network, but not the civil population of Pakistan. This despite, Pakistani establishment propagating anti-India/Hindu propaganda for decades. Tiger 3 is no different. It braves to send the democracy message loud and clear to Pakistan. There is also subtle political message to the Civil government, who keeps crying that India is the one who doesn’t want to hold talks on pressing issues. India has no qualms, but it is pointless speaking to a puppet government. Tiger 3 perhaps gets overexcited when in the end, the reel Pakistani PM chides its rogue Army officers for being the real villains in the India-Pakistan conflict. If that wasn’t enough, she even pays tribute to Tiger with Pakistani kids playing the Indian National Anthem on their instruments. Okay, Tiger has saved your PM, but yeh kuch zyada hogaya [this is a bit too much].

Naturally, certain sequences in Tiger 3 have riled the ultra-nationalists. Social warfare is essential. It’s better than ground combat as it is bloodless. Maybe, the Tiger 3 plot goes against the digital warriors and their respective agenda but is a stable Pakistan in India’s national interests? Peace loving Indians will naturally embrace this far-fetched idea, but there is also a theory that a stable Pakistan would put its resources in anti-India activities. Remember this is a country where it’s former PM Zulfikar Ali Bhutto famously said, “We will east grass, so be it, but we will become a nuclear power.”  Decades later, that has sadly come true as Pakistan battles severe economic crisis that has seen cost of food prices touch skies.  The dire economic woes has limited hostilities, but there is nothing concrete to suggest that Pakistani Army, ISI will totally give up its anti-India agenda.

We leave the politics to the politicians. Armed Forces in the case of Pakistan. For all its preposterous plot, producer Aditya Chopra, director Maneesh Sharma and Sridhar Raghavan, though can’t be faulted for their noble intentions.  Certain lot are riled across both sides, but there is also a commercial aspect to such plots. A noted Bollywood screenwriter, who has penned patriotic, action, spy-thrillers, once told us that such Indian films are also watched in Pakistan, and by overseas Pakistanis.  The writer added that about 30-40 per cent audience to such Indian spy action thrillers comprises of overseas Pakistanis. This year, we recall how Indian spy-action thriller Mission Majnu [2023] was trending at number four in Netflix Pakistan on a particular day. Of course, such trends need to be verified by independent auditors.  Whilst not many Pakistanis may watch such films in its entirety, there is no denying that there is a curiosity around the Mission Majnus, Tigers, and Pathaans in Pakistan. Even a Gadar 2 is not against civil population of Pakistan.

Reel or real, the buck naturally stops with the Pakistan Armed Forces, ISI, terror networks, who are the biggest hindrance to any India-Pakistan peace efforts. Tiger saving Pakistani PM inside Pakistan might be stuff of fantasy. One, however, must not forget that in 2004, the Indian government, intel agencies had tipped off their Pakistani counterparts on the threat to the life of then Pakistani president [dictator] Pervez Musharraf. Given the current political scenario, it is night impossible to expect leaders, establishment in the two countries to hold talks. Door are never closed in diplomacy, with certain back-channel communication often taking place.  

In the real, Indian info saved the life of a Pakistani dictator, the architect of Kargil War [1999]. So, YRF, Maneesh Sharma haven’t hurt India’s national interests by saving the elected/selected Pakistani PM in the reel.

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