Tiger has an inspirational underdog story at its heart, but it’s let down by ropey performances and an overabundance of clichés.
You’ve seen it all before – but perhaps not with a beard. That, really, is the selling point of Tiger, the new from-the-ashes boxing drama from director Alister Grierson that details the real-life struggles of Pardeep Singh Nagra (Prem Singh), a practicing Sikh who was denied the ability to box on the rather nebulous grounds that his beard posed a health risk.
Tiger is wisely more concerned with Nagra’s battles against racial and religious discrimination than those against fellow boxers, although the film does build towards a climactic slugfest between Nagra and his cartoonishly unpleasant rival, Bryan Doyle (Michael Pugliese, who shares a writing credit with Tiger’s star.) It’s just as well, really, as the in-ring action is sloppily filmed and mostly unconvincing, while the courtroom drama is surer territory that better represents the uniqueness (and flagrant discriminatory undertones) of Nagra’s story.
Which isn’t to say that any of that stuff is great either. In the lead role, Prem Singh gives an admirable account of himself, but his performance doesn’t totally convince either physically or emotionally, and his attempts to communicate Nagra’s rage and determination can come across as whiny. A late scene in which he holds a razor blade to his beard while screaming in the mirror felt like the kind of performance he was searching for from the beginning, but he only manages to find it that one time.
More eminently watchable is Charlotte (Janel Parrish), his civil rights lawyer, who also just so happens to be the ex-girlfriend of his rival and the daughter of his trainer, Frank Donovan (Mickey Rourke, somewhat ironically looking more and more like a heavy bag with each role.) I have no idea if that element of Nagra’s story is true, but I’m willing to bet a significant amount of money that it isn’t; it certainly never felt true, anyway. That kind of scripting contrivance and the film’s slavish devotion to mandatory genre beats means that the artifice of Tiger often threatens to overwhelm whatever truthfulness remains in its story.
Still, a bit of that truth manages to elevate Tiger here and there, and when the supporting cast come together and the film really tries to hone in on Sikhism as a belief system and what precisely about it resonates with Nagra as an individual, there’s a watchable film here. I could have done without almost every individual Nagra meets being a flagrant, often violent racist, and some of the scenes in which he’s ambushed outside the gym or pelted with rubbish on his way out of an arena feel designed to be obvious rather than effective. But that lack of sophistication I suppose gets at the idiocy of dullards who would try to prevent a man from pursuing a passion simply because he wears a turban. There’s something to be said for that at least.