Director Danis Tanovic, producer Anurag Kashyap and actor Emraan Hashmi have created an inspiring work of international collaboration with Tigers. Arthur J Pais reports from Toronto.
"Is Emraan in town?” a man, who had obviously heard me talk about the Toronto International Film Festival, asked me, as his friends at the Lahore Tikka House eagerly awaited my answer.
I said I did not know, but Priyanka Chopra was going to be in Toronto.
“She comes here so often,” the man said, ignoring for the moment the nihari and boti kebab just being served. “Suna hain Emraan koyee Hollywood film ka hero ban gaya hain.”(We’ve heard Emraan has become the hero of a Hollywood film).
I replied that though the new Emraan Hashmi film Tigers was made by an Oscar winner, Danis Tanovic, it was by no means a Hollywood film.
It was an Urdu-language film with several producers from India, who came to the rescue of the project when it was languishing for many years, as insurance companies in Europe would not back it. They were afraid that the multinational companies that are the target of the film would sue them and stop the film being released.
Hashmi fans in Toronto did catch a glimpse of him when he spent several days here promoting the film at the Toronto International Film Festival where it had a low key opening. No red carpet and no press conference, but it did get good reviews.
Some critics said it was not as compelling as The Constant Gardener, the film based on John Le Carre’s novel, which also targets pharmaceutical companies for illegal drug experimentation in African countries.
Hashmi has said that he is proud of the 30 Bollywood films he has worked in but they were also an exercise in keeping the kitchen running. A film like Tigers gave him an opportunity to sink his teeth into the role.
“Bollywood cinema does not require you to delve deep into your character,” he added, with an exception or two like the movie Shanghai.
In Tigers, he plays a conscience stricken medical sales representative in Pakistan who becomes an unlikely crusader.
Hashmi has not only been deglamorised but also been coaxed into giving a compelling performance.
This is a career-defining film for him, but it is not the kind of film that will ignite the mainstream box office.
Like Tanovich’s Oscar winner No Man’s Land, which mined just $15 million worldwide, Tigers could also become another art house hit.
Most of the movie’s cast is Indian and they have given fine performances.
Moreover, though this is an unlikely vehicle for the very busy music composer Pritam, he has produced a score that captures the suspense and tension of the story and has infused it with traditional melodies.
The film, based on a true story, asks the question: how far can an ordinary man go to stop widespread injustice?
It brings out the change in the man slowly but forcefully. It has no rousing end and the crusader who thought he would be welcome in Pakistan after appearing in a documentary about his work against the multinationals, ends up in Toronto. First as a doughnut maker and then a taxi driver in a kind of exile.
Hashmi plays the ambitious Pakistani pharmaceuticals salesman Ayan, who is shocked at the tactics of the multinational companies in persuading women to give baby food to their babies instead of breast feeding them. The milk powder mixed with the impure water that is often the only water available, kills a large number of children.
The father himself of a young child, Ayan is transformed into a formidable crusader as he takes on a multinational corporation and seeks to expose its bribing tactics and callousness. In the process, he rubs a powerful army officer the wrong way.
Multinationals are not the only villains here. Ayan is not able to sell drugs manufactured in Pakistan, which cost a fraction of the foreign made drugs, because doctors and customers want medicine made by foreign companies.
When his fight against the multinational attracts the backing of NGOs and a German television station, the company and its cohorts in Pakistan seek to intimidate and then bribe Ayan. They also seek to turn the tables against him by starting a campaign against him. The doubts they sow about his integrity and the attempt to show him as a blackmailer harm the crusade.
Moviegoers may find the climax of the film disappointing as it offers no heroic redemption and no punishment to the greedy corporate honchos and their henchmen.
The success of Tigers will depend on word of mouth publicity. Hashmi fans may not be happy to see him play a subdued role in a film that is thin on thrills and masala.
But 44-year-old Tanovic from Bosnia and Herzegovina, who has directed just a handful of films, Anurag Kashyap who is the film’s producer, and Hashmi have created an inspiring work of international collaboration.