Tiger Hunter Danny Pudi Karen David reviewYear: 2017
Director(s): Lena Khan
Writer(s): Sameer Asad Gardezi, Lena Khan
Region of Origin: US

Rating: N/A
Color, 94 mins

Synopsis: A young Indian man relocates to 1970s Chicago to become an engineer, but when his job falls through, resorts to an elaborate charade with misfit friends in order to woo his childhood sweetheart. (Source)

It isn’t hard to see why Lena Khan’s The Tiger Hunter is an important story for these turbulent times. Though it’s a period piece, its view of what America can and should strive to be is told through a sweet, technicolor immigrant story that still holds weight. Khan’s sincerity is powerful, channeling a hopeful view that is empowering without glossing over a few less-than-savory truths. With its fun command of rom-com and fish-out-of-water conventions, the film makes a worn genre feel timeless, not reinventing the wheel, but reminding us of why its ideas have stood the test of time. More than anything, Khan’s film is a relentless blast of joy, channeling laughs and a rich story about staying true to who we are at the forefront of a film that feels like an honest-to-god palette cleanser.

In 1979 India, Sami Malik (Danny Pudi) grows up in the shadow of his father, a legendary tiger hunter loved loved by their rural village. Years after his father has passed and Sami has grown to be a young man himself, he wrestles with how to live up to his father’s legacy. Armed with an engineering degree, Sami applies for a job in America, lured by the promise of a better life and the chance to win over his lifelong crush, Ruby (Karen David). Sami receives a letter of acceptance, but he’s only able to travel abroad after the entire village pools their resources to buy him a plane ticket. When Sami arrives wild-eyed and bushy tailed in Chicago, however, he’s devastated to find out that his job offer has been unceremoniously revoked. Having come too far, Sami decides to take a low-level drafting job, hoping to earn his way up. Despite a succession of disappointments, Sami vows to turn dreams into reality, learning along the way that sometimes things don’t work out for the better.

Without a doubt, optimism is Khan’s greatest weapon, and there isn’t a single moment of cynicism to be found. From the opening musical number to vibrant colors which pop off the screen, Khan’s film is overflowing with heart. At the center of it all, is Khan’s pure perspective of the American Dream, one that’s fully cognizant of its drawbacks, but defiantly holding on to hope. This steadfast belief in the good we’re capable of is channeled wonderfully not just through Sami, but also his friends, all of whom have accepted menial jobs despite their technical degrees. As Sami and his friends navigate prejudice and the battle between expectation and reality, Khan delivers laughs rooted in relatable hopes, dreams and fears, keeping things light but always meaningful. For all intents and purposes, this is a surprisingly well-rounded film, taking genre expectation and dissecting immutable truths about the world we live in and how we can make it a better place.

Tiger Hunter Danny PudiSince its humor is deeply rooted in character, Khan’s cast is one that delivers in spades. At the center of it all, Danny Pudi’s Sami is irresistibly charming. His accent is a bit weak, but he more than makes up for it with wild-eyed delivery and sweet natured nuance. Though he embodies aw-shucks goodness and a rigid, but endearing social awkwardness on the surface, Pudi ain’t no one trick pony, evolving throughout as his character does the same. As Sami’s besties, Rizwan Manji’s fellow immigrant Babu is a riot while Jon Heder’s Alex makes the film feel grounded. It’s a shame that Karen David’s Ruby isn’t around more often, but she delivers through the few pivotal moments she’s given.

The Tiger Hunter is nostalgia done right. There’s context to its view of the past, contrasting a reflection of the things that haven’t changed and the things that need to evolve. Under the current political and social climate, the film is something that needs to be seen, a plea that this idealized version of America is something worth fighting for. There aren’t many films like this anymore, and the fact that Khan pulls it off with this much charm makes it truly special.