Emraan Hashmi’s Tigers Is a Dull Retelling of an Important Story
It is tempting to view Danis Tanovic's long delayed Tigers in a positive light only because it was unfairly sitting on shelves for more than four years because of legal issues, all the more so because it is based on true events and addresses a real world problem that still plagues the poor.
Good intentions and a social message don’t, however, guarantee a good film – as the History channel films have repeatedly proved. Tigers, unfortunately is too simple-minded in execution and a dull retelling of an important story; which sort of makes one wonder if the film was on the back-burner because of its low quality as opposed to legal issues. If anything, it solidifies the notion that direct to streaming movie premieres are mostly due to the films being turkeys.
Emran Hashmi plays Ayan, a salesman in Pakistan newly recruited in a Big Pharma conglomerate with the task of selling baby formula. Ayan has to placate his stoic boss (Adil Hussain) at work and curry favour with the local doctors of a hospital, including the emergency ward operative, Dr Faiz (Satyadeep Mishra). Things take a turn when babies suddenly turn up sick and Ayan finds out that his company may be responsible for selling tainted baby formula.
Ayan’s character is based on Syed Aamir Raza Hussain who was employed by Nestle, and Ayan predictably takes on the system and finds out that this lone vigilantism no match for the iron hand of corporate and political pressure.
This should have been a gripping story on the lines of Michael Mann’s The Inside. However, Tigers struggles to transfer the emotional weight of Ayan’s predicament into a powerful narrative. Tanovic’s stripped down direction is reminiscent of Michael Winterbottom’s minimalist style but he seems to be dimly aware that the story needed a more nuanced approach; he is too shackled to a white man’s point of view on a third world issue.
The dramatic scenes are laced with shots of poor Pakistani kids in shanties with either the azaan or desi songs blaring in the background, which is as cheap and desi exotica plot device as it gets. Far safer, it seems, it is to gloss the production with close-ups of Hashmi and Geetanjali Thapa, who plays the wife, and keep marching to the next predictable story beat.
One major problem is the film’s strategy of trying to shock you with the notion that big corporations could be (gasp) evil – a fact that that is no longer alien to today’s audiences. The film needed a deeper dive into what the corporation did and how it succeeded to jump through the geopolitical hoops in order to cause such a massive humanitarian disaster, and how it managed to still scrape through without any consequences.
We learn none of those things because Tanovic glosses over them and merely sticks to his belief that Hashmi’s face persistently exuding confusion will keep people from seeing how hollow the film ultimately is.
The casting of Hashmi is questionable as well. For his part, he lacks the energy that his character would experience knowing that the people who pay him would at some point try to kill him. Contrast his performance to Mishra’s who steals every scene he is in despite being given limited screen time, and one begins to wonder why Mishra wasn’t playing Ayan.
Hashmi can certainly do a lot of things in a commercial Hindi film, but playing a real human being and looking like the weight of the third world is on his shoulders is not one of them.
The framing device contains cutaways to somewhere in a West where a bunch of westerners are planning a strategy to help Ayan and build a case against the corporation. This too, is woefully put together as the actors (Danny Huston, Khalid Abdella, Maryam d’Abo) are all consigned to one dimensional white people discovering desi poverty for the first time. It could be possible that their arc was originally filmed but was left on the cutting room floor to accommodate a run-time which led to their characters getting flattened.
It doesn’t, however, explain the poor production values that makes this look like an American after-school special.
Now available on Zee5, Tigers should ultimately have been more substantive, but is leaden and unremarkable - a 21st century true crime drama thriller struggling to adapt to the true crime high bar set by Netflix. The last thing one expects from a film featuring real hospital footage of dying children is it being un-involving.
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