Interested in bringing a screening of The Tiger Hunter to your city? Sign up at https://www.thetigerhunter.com/screenings, and reserve your tickets.
It’s 1979 in small-town India, and Sami Malik has two goals. First, be great like his late father, a legendary tiger hunter who’s idolized by the community. Second, marry Ruby, his childhood sweetheart whom he has wanted to marry his entire life.
The obstacle to wedded bliss with Ruby is her father, the imposing General Iqbal, who wants his daughter to marry a successful man. And successful Sami is not, at least by General Iqbal’s standards. Though Sami has an engineering degree, he has a fairly lowly job repairing electronics such as radios and record players.
And thus we have the opening of the heartwarming comedy The Tiger Hunter, written and directed by Lena Khan. A young man is faced with two pressures that many males encounter: living up to a father’s greatness and achieving enough professional success to prove himself marriageable.
This movie is a comedy, though, so Sami’s path will involve hilarity — and, for viewers, flashbacks to ’70s fashion. (Be prepared for a cantaloupe-orange dress shirt paired with an extra-wide green tie.)
Sami (played by Danny Pudi) sets off for Chicago to work as an engineer with Gradian Technologies, but when he shows up, he learns that the job offer has fallen through. Instead he is directed to a temp job as a draftsman in the company’s poorly lit basement. The visa clock is clicking. He has 30 days to find a permanent job or else he’ll have to return to India as a failure who’ll never win General Iqbal’s approval.
Sami’s life becomes a lie. He tells his mother in India that his life as an engineer in America is going swimmingly. In reality, he’s sharing a crowded apartment with about 12 other young South Asian men, all of whom have technical degrees but work menial jobs, with one named Babu (Rizwan Manji) saying that he works as a “wallet” (valet). The bachelors’ pad is so crowded that they pack together and spoon one another at night, giving new meaning to “sleep tight.”
Sami asks his American draftsman colleague Alex (Jon Heder) about what it really takes to get ahead in the workplace. Alex says it’s 10 percent talent, 30 percent hard work, and 70 percent being accepted. (And, Alex adds, if you’re nerdy enough to point out that those numbers sum to 110, then you won’t be accepted.) Being accepted means becoming a “Professional American,” a slick guy who schmoozes and talks about baseball and golf. Sami has a realization: “I have to become a Professional American.” It’s his only way up and out of the dark basement full of draftsmen.
So by day Sami is an underdog draftsman trying to fit in to American office culture, but by night in his apartment he works on Gradian’s main project — designing a microwave oven that will evenly and thoroughly heat frozen food without exploding. If he can invent such a microwave, perhaps he can get promoted to a permanent engineering position and win Ruby’s hand in marriage.
The comedy climaxes when Sami learns that General Iqbal (played by Iqbal Theba) and Ruby (Karen David) will be touring America to visit suitors. Taking the American idea of “fake it ’til you make it” to the level of “big pretend,” Sami fakes having a castle-like house with personal cook and butler. But inevitably, like all tangled webs we weave when we practice to deceive, Sami’s fakery is eventually exposed.
What we are left with is a heartwarming comedic tale of an Indian immigrant striving for professional success in order to marry his sweetheart. And in the end we learn an important lesson about authenticity as Sami writes in a letter to Ruby: “I’m no longer pretending. I’m just trying to be the man you always knew I should be.”
* * *