Some of the best films based on whistle-blowers/individuals taking on corporations, are built on the protagonist’s solid integrity. And that’s why, the casting of Emraan Hashmi is one of the most interesting things about Danis Tanovic’s Tigers. Having built a whole career on the back of avoidable-but-commercially-lucrative franchises, Hashmi’s on screen reputation as Bollywood’s ‘serial kisser’ didn’t set a strong precedent for a righteous protagonist. Someone, who will, eventually, show incredible resolve and hope, and turn the wheels of justice.
It’s refreshing to see Emraan Hashmi, who has generally made a career of shady characters, to be given something with such uncharacteristic strength and depth. As a fan of George Orwell would tell you, Hashmi’s character, Ayan, sparks a revolution (of sorts) by telling the truth in a time of universal deceit. Tanovic’s film deals with the real-life incidents of Nestle and their infant formula – that was reportedly responsible for the eventual deaths of babies in Pakistan, during the early 1990s.
Tanovic structures it like a film within a film. This allows him to cut away from his protagonist’s narrative and constantly pose questions to him. So, while the protagonist is talking about his wedding day, Tanovic abruptly cuts back to the ‘producer’ (played by Danny Huston) asking Ayan to cut to the chase.
This is film about a middle-class Pakistani family. A set-up where Ayan requests his neighbour to let the Bollywood film keep playing on TV. The neighbour not only obliges, but also flings the TV remote to Ayan’s room as a gift for his wedding night.
As a salesman selling a multinational company’s formula by charming/bribing the local doctors and dispensaries, Hashmi looks completely at home. The ambition that places him from a scooter onto a bike, and from his parents’ home to his own apartment, is reminiscent of Hashmi’s Jannat. The challenge arrives around halfway through the second act, when a local doctor (played by Satyadeep Misra) shows him the horrors of the product he’s peddling.
In real life, Hashmi’s four-year-old son (also called Ayaan interestingly) was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in 2013 (around the time he began filming Tigers). And that fatherly concern occupies Hashmi’s face, each time his character is reminded about how many kids were affected by a product that he helped sell. He peers into the room where his two children (in the film) lay asleep, and there is a hint of regret, sadness and vulnerability on his face. Hashmi’s smartly calibrated performance shifts from a pronounced urgency to sheer powerlessness. Witness him breathlessly explain himself, as a phone recording is played back to him.
Emraan Hashmi’s solid (and surprising!) turn as a lead performance, is what keeps many invested in a film that could have very well been a documentary. Bollywood is probably too settled in its mediocrity, to offer something like this to the actor. And even Hashmi is probably too happy to headline franchises, that will ensure an easy pay-day. But a film like Tigers also makes the audience wish, we see this side of Emraan Hashmi, more than once in a decade.
Tigers is currently streaming on Zee 5.