Katrina Kaif and Salman Khan (r) in a scene from “Tiger Zinda Hai.” (Yash Raj Films)

We caught the 2:15 show on our second attempt to see Tiger Zinda Hai, in Roseville, Calif., on Friday, Dec. 29. This Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif starrer is the long-anticipated sequel to Ek Tha Tiger (2012) which conquered fans worldwide with its unique storyline and non-stop action, writes Ras H. Siddiqui.

Those viewers who were curiously waiting to see if the magic of the first movie is continued will not be disappointed even though the item number by Ms. Kaif (“Mashallah”) in the first film may almost be impossible to duplicate. And it is no surprise for us here to learn that this Tiger too is breaking records and has already entered the top ten grossing Bollywood films ever, and who knows where it will eventually stop in rankings?

If memory serves us right we last left Avinash Singh Rathore/Tiger (Salman Khan) an agent of India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and Zoya (Katrina Kaif) a female agent working for the Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) somewhere in Havana, Cuba in Ek Tha Tiger. Their working together had raised many eyebrows and their romance became unacceptable to their countries of origin so they became outcasts, forced to live incognito.  But how does Tiger Zinda Hai bring them back into the limelight? Perhaps with a desperate situation and a common enemy to fight?

Enter a scenario starting somewhere in war torn Syria and moving to unstable Iraq. Writers Neelesh Misra and Ali Abbas Zafar have done a good job resurrecting Tiger and Zoya (Aditya Chopra originated them) in this film without diminishing either role in any major way. Filmed in Abu Dhabi/UAE, Austria and Greece this film has some beautiful visual backdrops. But the bad guys led by Abu Usman (Sajjad Delafrooz) and Al Amir Bagdawi (Sal Yousuf) are extremely mean and their terrorist organization called ISC is out to do major damage in the Iraq-Syria region. Abu Usman is injured and taken to a hospital in a city called Ikrit where 25 Indian and 15 Pakistani nurses are forced to stay to treat the wounded. The United States Armed forces are ready to bomb the hospital to take out the terrorists but Indian officials persuade them to hold off for 7 days so that the nurses can somehow be rescued. RAW Spymaster Mr. Shenoy (Girish Karnad) presents the idea that only Tiger can carry out this mission and is asked the question “Tiger Zinda Hai?” (Is Tiger Alive?) because nobody has seen him in years.

Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif (r) in a scene from “Tiger Zinda Hai.” (Yash Raj Films)

It appears that Tiger and Zoya have been living in beautiful and snowy Austria and now have a son by the name of Junior (Sartaaj Kakkar) and when they are not battling packs of big bad wolves and convenience store robbers, they are still discretely in touch with their handlers in RAW and the ISI.  It is difficult to get them out of their comfortable cocoon here but a request is made and it is Zoya who convinces Tiger to take the mission to rescue the Indian nurses and joins him later to rescue their Pakistani counterparts. ISC leader Abu Usman is portrayed as a highly intelligent terrorist who has his own unique way of doing things. But the 7-day time allotted is fast running out. One nurse has already been executed and the team assembled by Tiger has little time and a herculean task at hand.

It is here that Tiger suggests that RAW and ISI work as partners against a common enemy and after some initial reservations and resistance from both sides, it is agreed that they will work together and quickly, because if the Americans bomb the place, none of the nurses will survive. The team finds an unlikely ally in a fixer of sorts named Firdaus (Paresh Rawal) an old RAW asset in Iraq who assists the team through many difficult situations. And from here on in the film the question “Tiger Zinda Hai?” (Is Tiger Alive?) turns into a statement “Tiger Zinda Hai” (Tiger is Alive) with non-stop action and a great deal of violence. And let us not forget that Zoya is very much alive and in the story too. It would be difficult to imagine this movie without Katrina Kaif!

Like the audience, critics too will notice the high production quality of this film. It has not been made with a limited budget and in parts is comparable to some of the best from Hollywood. This writer was reminded of another film with a very limited release which we saw last October in Sacramento called The Tiger Hunter (a cute, watchable Indian American story, a comedy made with a limited budget) directed by Lena Khan. Tiger Zinda Hai is in quite a different league and it seems that its success was guaranteed on inception because the sets and the locations appear to be expensive and high budget.

Last but not least how would one rate Tiger Zinda Hai? Is it a 3-star movie with a 5-star message for South Asians? Without attracting the wrong kind of attention, one can support the idea that Indians and Pakistanis should work together to settle their problems. That is the 5-star message in this film. But does one have to wait till hell freezes over? There is too much “Maar Dhaar” (violence) in it and the odds against the hero here are too stretched to be believable so 2-stars there but it is very well made so we can bump that up to 3-stars. Will we wait for another Tiger movie? The answer is “Yes.” Tiger Zinda Hai is entertaining and brings Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Indians and Pakistanis together and promotes dialog. That cannot be bad!

(Final Rating 4 out of 5 stars)