Anytime the phrase, “Based on a true story…” or “Inspired by a real events…” opens a film, you’d expect the actual true story. The trend today leans toward taking a small pinch from the real story to inspire an enter feature. In other words…it’s not a true story. Using that phrase, as a filmmaker, you are managing expectations. Is your film true or not? If true, then no problem, but if it isn’t then you have many hurdles to jump to win over audiences.
From director Alister Grierson and writers Michael Pugliese and Prem Singh is the story of real-life Sikh boxer Pardeep Singh Nagra. The film is Tiger, and it’s “based on a true story.” Covering the themes of racial and religious discrimination, Tiger is an inspirational story of the underdog coming out on top.
Pardeep Nagra (Prem Singh) is a former soccer player and a practicing Sikh. Former soccer player because his anger issues made him a problematic team member. Surrounded by perceived racism and discrimination, Nagra is an angry and bitter man, and as a Sikh, his turban and beard becomes a lightning rod for religious persecution.
Alone on an evening stroll, Pardeep passes a young woman experiencing car troubles. As a Sikh, his offer of assistance is met with prejudice and refusal on the part of the woman. Things get worse as several amateur boxers heading to their gym, begin taunting Pardeep. Not willing to let it go, Pardeep follows them into the gym and confronts the leader, Brian Doyle (Michael Pugliese). Doyle, the number one contender for his class’ championship, quickly dispatches Pardeep.
“…commission threatens to disqualify Pardeep because of his beard and turban…”
Still angry, Pardeep challenges Doyle again hours later in the gym’s parking lot. During the scuffle, Frank Donovan (Mickey Rourke) breaks up the fight and drags Pardeep into the gym alone. Frank tells Pardeep to take his frustrations out on the punching bag. Seeing the fire in his eyes and a set of bloody knuckles, Frank tells Pardeep to come back in the morning, and he’ll train him.
The heart of the story of Nagra and of Tiger occurs when Pardeep attempts to compete in his first sanctioned match. Whether it’s because of his race or religion or envy, no one wants Pardeep to compete. Before the weigh-in, the boxing commission threatens to disqualify Pardeep because of his beard and turban, claiming it’s a safety issue. True, the beard rule has been on the books from the beginning and rules are rules. The majority of the film deals with Pardeeps right to fight and at the same time follow his religious beliefs.
Remember the girl with car problems? That girl is Charlotte (Janel Parrish) who becomes Pardeep’s civil right lawyer. Oh yeah, and she’s the feisty daughter of Pardeep’s boxing coach Frank. Charlotte takes Pardeep’s fight to court in hopes of striking the rule as religious discrimination and force the league to allow him to fight.
Does the story of Tiger sound familiar? It does because it’s been told too many times. It’s the basic athlete with raw natural talent, overcoming obstacles, and winning in the end. The structure of the story is the same, it’s the people and cause that becomes interchangeable. Tiger is no different. The difference is the fact that Pardeep is a devout Sikh.
That said, there’s nothing wrong with telling a familiar inspirational story. The key is that the story needs to be different and the final product exceptional to stand out from the pack. Tiger stands out in two ways. First, it’s a good crash course into the Sikh religion. Why the beard? Why the turban? Why devote your life to this unfamiliar way of life? Tiger lays it all out dispelling misconceptions and showing why Pardeep chose it as a lifestyle and belief system.
“Rourke shows that he can lift the performances of everyone around him…”
Second, Mickey Rourke. Nothing elevates a production better than bringing top talent. Rourke shows that he can lift the performances of everyone around him. As Frank Donovan, he’s effortless as the old veteran, who sees talent over appearances and as the mentor who stands behind his students. Prem Singh and Janel Parrish hold their own against master actor Rourke turning Tiger into a solid biographical drama.
Going back to my first point. Tiger is “inspired” by the real-life Pardeep Nagra. The real Pardeep lived and fought in Canada, while this film’s setting is the States. Pardeep’s fight with the boxing commission is real. While Tiger tells a good, solid story, I bring this up only to say that I was distracted wondering precisely what is real and what isn’t. Did Pardeep fall in love with his lawyer? Did he really have a love/hate relationship with rival Doyle? Did they both train under the same coach? Did Pardeep really look in a mirror distraught with razor in hand? Throughout is the wonder between what is real conflict and what exists solely to create dramatic moments.
There are enough facts and inspiration to make Tiger worth watching. Mickey Rourke always gives a good performance, and he still fits in the boxing setting. The downside is the story’s structure is unoriginal insuring Tiger will never leap beyond being just a good film.
Tiger (2018) Directed by Alister Grierson. Written by Michael Pugliese, Prem Singh. Starring Prem Singh, Mickey Rourke, Janel Parrish, Michael Pugliese. Tiger screened as part of the 2018 San Diego International Film Festival.
7 out of 10 stars