Tiger Zinda Hai: Barely!

Family movies these days are difficult to come by, especially ones that you could watch with your kids and not have to answer uncomfortable questions. So when we came to know that the Salman Khan starrer ‘Tiger Zinda Hai’ was playing at a theatre near us, all of us bundled into a car and drove down to the mall where the movie was showing. The movie started off fairly well, the opening scene being set in Syria where an American intelligence agent is abducted and executed. Following this the movie moves to Iraq with a few vacillations between India and the CIA headquarters in Langley.

An international hostage crisis in Syria has the RAW scurrying to look for their best agent ‘Tiger’, who, it seems, was supposedly killed in the last movie. The agency finds out that ‘Tiger Zinda Hai’ (Tiger is Alive) and they send him out on this mission to rescue some Indian and Pakistani nurses from the clutches of the terrorist organization ISC, at a hospital in Ikrit, Iraq. The movie has some good performances by Girish Karnad, Siddharth Basu and Paresh Rawal. Salman Khan is an exemplary entertainer and Katrina is as pretty as always.  The movie sets a good pace throughout and draws its main plot from the Syrian hostage crisis where some Indian paramedical staff were held hostage and were rescued by the Syrians after some serious lobbying by the Ministry of External Affairs.

The movie has some great stunts that seem to be inspired from Mission Impossible and James Bond movies. Salman Khan even does a Schwarzenegger at one point where he comes out of the building with the machine gun blazing, cutting down the enemy and not getting even a scratch in return. The movie has sufficient dosages of action, gore, oomph and patriotism to make it a box office success. The recurring theme throughout the movie, however, is ‘Tiger Zinda Hai’. Though repetitive and rather adolescent, the tag line set me thinking about the situation of the ‘real’ tigers in India and elsewhere.

The tigers are a fast disappearing species and the U.N. and several international organizations have long been involved in trying to arrest the rapid slump in their populations. The TRC or Tiger Range Countries are a group of countries where tigers still roam freely. These include India, China, Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Lao PDR, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, North Korea and Russia. Out of all these countries India is probably the only country where the tiger population has actually increased. This increase, though meager, has brought the total number of tigers in India to around 2500-3000 individuals in 2006, up from around 1400 in 1973. This has given hope to the organizations actively involved in tiger conservation that the species may, as yet, not become extinct.

The majestic cat has long been poached for its body parts and its skin, which was, till not long ago, worn as a fashion statement in parts of China and Tibet. Although China legislated against tiger poaching in 1998, illegal trade and poaching of tiger skin and body parts continued unabated in Tibet till the Dalai Lama in 2006 advised against it, leading to several incidences of burning of ‘chubas’ by Tibetans and a probable decrease in poaching in that region. Poaching, however, is not the only problem that faces these beautiful animals today. It is estimated that at one point of time, there were nearly 5000 tigers in captivity in small cages throughout China for display, inbreeding and systematic slaughter for body parts. Traditional Chinese medicine uses several of these, besides tiger nails and teeth being used by shamans and priests to ward off the evil eye. One must wonder though, if the tiger nail or tooth was so effective in warding off the evil eye, how come the poor cat which wore a full set, got killed by the poachers in the first place?

Though India has been an early signatory to CITES or the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, and had started Project Tiger way back in 1972, its record has been far from exemplary. Tiger population in India which was estimated at around 20,000 – 40,000 at the turn of the century was reduced to a meager 1400 in 1972-3 when Project Tiger was initiated. Fortunately at the last count, the tiger population in India has swelled to around 3000, thanks to several government and non-government initiatives to save the cat. Presently India has around 48 tiger sanctuaries and plans are afoot to link those which lie in the Terai-Arc Landscape (TAL) region with tiger corridors, to facilitate migration and intermingling of tiger population between these conservatories. This should lead to an increase in gene pool and diversity, higher birth rates and greater cub survival. I hope we live to see the day when the ‘real’ tiger is no more ‘endangered’ and moves on from ‘barely zinda hai’ to ‘Tiger Zinda Hai’ list!!!

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