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Bollywood Spy Universe May Not Be As Progressive As We Might Think

(Spoilers Alert)

Bollywood spy universe is taking over Hindi cinema rapidly. Pathaan, Tiger and War franchises are cashing from the known faces of their celebrated casts and the incessant saga of the Indo-Pak rivalry. By incorporating feelings of nationalism and introducing major female leads with adept action sequences and use of VFX, it might seem that Hindi films are progressing towards more inclusive and innovative means of storytelling, however, the idea is more far-fetched than plausible.

Bollywood Spy Universe lacks progressiveness. Check out the Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif starrer Tiger 3 movie review.

Taking the most recent venture of the Bollywood spy universe, Tiger 3 – it is packed with all the necessary action sequences – a strong confrontation between the male and female leads, an impactful female action sequence along with exciting use of special effects and VFX. The movie has done brilliantly over the box office much like its predecessors – War, Pathaan as well as the prequels, appealing to the audience for its nationalist idealism. Yet the question remains – does it serve the purpose of true and insightful cinema?

Tiger 3 opens with – what could possibly be a gripping storyline – the background of Zoya (Katrina Kaif). As an audience who is now bored of watching the same worn-out narrative of Indian spy gallantly fighting away the Pakistani military/terrorists, I was full of expectations hoping to experience a new narrative in the Bollywood spy universe. However, much to my dismay, the film entangles itself back into Tiger’s (Salman Khan) narrative as he heroically rescues the entire nation of Pakistan; more single-handedly than a group initiative. This also reflects the power dynamics between the male and female leads in Bollywood. The female spy is oftentimes, if not always, serving the role of a support to the male lead or rather acting as a subordinate or merely driving the narrative forward. Needless to say, the representation of female narratives in Bollywood spy films is majorly catering to the male gaze of the audience. The audience may not be ready to accept a strong female narrative just as the filmmakers are not ready to produce that narrative in the first place. Even though such female storylines (read: Raazi) have started to establish their prevalence in the Hindi cinema, they are not as well received as their male counterparts.

This gives rise to two even larger questions – are we, as audience, ready to accept female narratives in Bollywood spy films? And are the male actors willing to accept the changing power dynamics in the industry?

In an attempt to serve something more relatable and exciting to the audience, Yash Raj Films may have come up with an alternate superhero universe, but fails to deliver a compelling storyline. The repetitive use of Indo-Pak rivalry and tensions are not only limiting the creative aspect of filmmaking but also maintaining the grotesque status quo between the two nations. In a world where human rights crises have taken the front stage and the reluctance to wars is constantly growing given the inexorable destruction. This takes me back to Martin Scorsese’s criticism of the superhero franchise films as he expressed his dissent towards the "theme parks movies" saying, "There are going to be generations now that think movies are only those — that’s what movies are." It begs the question: do we really need to glorify wars and fighting when we are talking of peace and stability?

As for the Tiger franchise, it started with a plea to stop wars and foster brotherhood between India and Pakistan. Ek Tha Tiger was not just a love story but an eye-opener to the unending political hate and the possible indulgence between the two nations. Tiger 3, on the other hand, preached the tolerant stand of India as opposed to the ferocious approach of Pakistan. In some sense, it aimed at good will between the two at the cost of establishing the superiority of one over the other, glorifying violence and driving away from the true essence of the franchise. With more anticipated films adding to this Bollywood spy universe, can we expect newer narratives and stories to develop in the future or as audience, are we destined to be served the same glorification of action in the name of nationalism?