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Review: Tigers is too taken by its own courage

By Sreehari Nair
Last updated on: November 22, 2018 17:05 IST
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'Tigers fails to understand that the phenomenon of a million babies dying because there is not enough clean drinking water in which to mix a certain packaged baby formula may have its source in a system where deprivation runs so deep that even a small gift works like a tonic,' argues Sreehari Nair.

Danis Tanovic's Tigers opens with a team of international film executives trying to figure out Ayan (Emraan Hashmi): A medical representative of Pakistani origin, who takes on a giant multinational company over the safety of their packaged baby formula -- committing thus, an act of both bravery and folly.

By the end of Tanovic's film, I found myself mentally huddling together with the desperate film executives, joined in their misery: With neither them nor me able to figure out Ayan.

The enclosing story of Tigers is a movie about movie-making.

But it exists merely to suggest how bold Tanovic is, in even attempting this movie.

At one point, Ayan -- conversing with the film executives through a video-conference -- reveals the MNC in question. (It's Nestle).

And this has the effect of making the moneymen, the creative men, and the legal expert in the film-making team jump in their seats -- stating that they cannot name names!

And so the dramatisation of Ayan's story continues, but without any mention of Nestle.

Some might say about that scene: 'Danis Tanovic has balls!'

I thought it was Tanovic giving his peers (read, other film-makers) the finger. The scene is too self-congratulatory, and so is the whole movie.

When Norman Mailer presented a catty version of himself in Armies Of The Night, or when Charlie Kaufman created a Charlie Kaufman character with all his neuroses intact in Adaptation, those choices had helped foreground those artists' vision of the world.

They were acts of contrition: Mailer and Kaufman were scaling themselves down in response to how complex they felt the world was.

There was a wit about those artistic choices!

Tanovic scales himself up.

The result being that while he may want to come off as a courageous artist, he actually comes off as someone too taken by his own courage.

The movie-making part in Tigers is thus, not meta; it's merely self-intoxicating.

If the outer movie is undeveloped, the inner movie, which tries to dramatise Ayan's story, is woefully underdeveloped.

Ayan's story spans from the day of his marriage to the rising of his conscience and further, his exposing of the MNC that had once hired him.

Each scene in this section exists only to make one point (whatever that point may be) and it goes inert at the precise instant that the point is made.

There's no larger perception or 'life' that comes through by the end of each shot, and Tanovic rushes into the next shot with a speed junkie's nervous energy.

The characters, under the pretext of talking to each other, are just trying to 'tell us things.'

Ayan's mother, drawing up a reference of Ayan's sibling and using the title 'Your elder brother' is the sort of exposition that feels really clunky.

Supriya Pathak, as the mother, is off the rails from her first scene to her last, occasionally even letting a hint of Gujarati slip into her Urdu utterances.

The dialogues are all over the place (Either the original Ayan was a bad storyteller, or this is just Tanovic's natural talent showing).

Here's Ayan's wife (Geetanjali Thapa) on the night before his first job interview: 'Don't worry Ayan, you are a very good salesman.'

That Ayan's story is set in Pakistan is conveyed to us using such remarks as: 'I came from Lahore', 'Had gone to Karachi', 'Back to Islamabad' and so on.

There’s a tremendous predictability about the arc of most scenes.

When Ayan practices the Tiger's Growl -- a sales training game meant to increase productivity -- and his wife putters around in his room, you can guess how the scene will end: he's soon going to push her down on the bed and growl all tiger-like. And that is exactly what happens!

In certain portions, the technique feels anachronistic when weighed against the final dramatic resolution.

For example, one shot has Ayan dejectedly walking home after a job interview and a song with the words Kyu Bhatakta Phiroo Main? (What is the point of my roaming anyway?), plays over the shot.

Next, we see Ayan inside his home announcing to his family that he has got the job.

And I was left wondering, 'What really was the point of that last shot then? What was the background song there trying to convey?'

There are many ways of building dramatic tension but this surely isn't one of them.


On the plus side, sequences of Ayan slowly corrupting the hospital authorities by way of gifts contain a warm moral fuzziness.

There's a charm especially about the way he pockets the nurses, becoming their personal Santa Claus almost, as they disclose to him their preferred gifts.

It's here though that Tigers loses out on the chance to go deeper into the question: What in the marrow of our subcontinent's culture makes us so vulnerable to small niceties?

The evils of consumerism cannot be tackled by telling us about one Ayan suddenly experiencing a breakthrough of conscience.

Any revolution of that order can be engineered only by trying to understand what exactly in us makes us corrupt in the first place: what tender parts of us do the big corporations appeal to?

Tigers fails to understand that the phenomenon of a million babies dying because there is not enough clean drinking water in which to mix a certain packaged baby formula may have its source in a system where deprivation runs so deep that even a small gift works like a tonic.

Emraan Hashmi's Ayan is depicted as a fresh-faced innocent who has absolutely no inkling that the product he sells may have any kind of deeper ramifications. At first, I wondered how a stiff like that could be up to the job of a salesman -- which job calls for some dynamism, and a lot of loopy thinking.

But that is part of the movie's plan: Tanovic and his writers want us to understand that Ayan -- in his neat attire and his bored schlepping around of his big bag -- is too clean to think two cycles ahead.

And to tell us that much, Tanovic and his team tap into the bland part of Emraan Hashmi, the actor: That part that earnestly wants us to believe that he is a good man with not one fraudulent bone inside him.

Hashmi (though by no means a bad actor) stands hugely exposed when he goes up against better actors like Adil Hussain (who may here be a mercenary doubling up as a sales manager -- but because Hussain plays this character, we also get to see his anxieties), and Vinod Nagpal, as Ayan's father.

Nagpal too plays a righteous man, fighting a dozen court cases at one time, but you see how coolly he warms up to his righteousness.

When a social worker requests him to take care of the family while Ayan goes away to shoot a documentary, Nagpal, summoning up all his compassion and chivalry says, 'Of course, I will look after the family. But let's have some tea first?'

It is a shame that the goodness of Vinod Nagpal's character -- the tough part of his goodness -- is not to be found in the character of Ayan who seems to have ambled into goodness.

And then, he finally mutters the mission-statement of the accidentally-good: 'I am just doing what I think is right.'

Have always believed it's relatively easy to talk about the most obvious kind of rot that corporations cause. The subject lends itself to polemics, naturally.

But it takes a real artist to talk about the spiritual rot that organisations effect: How they destroy our sense of aestheticism, how their advertising divide the world neatly into 'good' and 'bad', how they weaken our artistic tissue, how they alter our sense of proportion... and how, through all this, they make it possible for movies like Tigers to occupy an exalted position.

Sure, this is a true story and the real Ayan may have actually glossed over a big chunk of his experience in a bid to project himself as a crusader of unreasonable proportions. But a good artist would have passed this story and its events through his own personality and thus broadened its shoulders.

Enduring pieces of art happen not through recreations alone, but when journalistic flashbulbs meet the warp of the observer.

In a way, the outer movie pops out some interesting observations about the weaknesses in the film we are watching.

Toward the closing stages for example, the film-making team is perplexed by Ayan's lopsided self-appraisal.

'Why is he painting himself so virtuous?' they silently wonder.

It is a film-maker's question.

But it is also a question that Tigers has no answer to.

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Sreehari Nair