TIGER tells the story of a boxer (based on true events) who also had to contend with battles outside the ring – for his Sikh religion. He was not allowed by the American Boxing Corporation to box unless he shaved his beard claiming that they held the best interest of boxers in mind for cuts and bruises might not be seen underneath the facial hair.
The film is inspired by the true story of Pardeep Singh Nagra (Prem Singh) aka Punjab Tiger, a practicing Sikh man who was banned from the sport of boxing. Pardeep fights back with the support of his coach and mentor (Mickey Rourke), family and a community lawyer (Janel Parrish) who he falls in love with. Obstacles faced include racial profiling by public officials, overtly racist threats, jealous rival boxers and pressure to change from loved ones. It is within the course of these challenges and at his weakest moment that he discovers love.
One wonders the reason the film is entitled TIGER instead of PUNJAB TIGER, which would be the more appropriate title. One might think that for an anti-racist film, dropping the PUNJAB word might be taking a prejudiced view that the title might put off general audiences. On the other hand, one could also argue that the simple TIGER will fetch a larger audience and likely the ones to learn a lesson or two about racism.
Good intentions aside, TIGER feels like a poor man’s version of ROCKY. There are similarities between the two boxing films. Both are based on real life characters and both do not qualify as a true biographies. Rocky Balboa’s character emphasized his Italian background while Pardeep Singh his Sikh background. Both rely on the expertise of their experienced coach, who were real boxers, Mickey Rourke in TIGER. There is also the romantic element in both films that show the boxer also as a human being.
Prem Sing delivers as the feisty boxer. It is good to see Mickey Rourke (Academy Award nominee for Best actor in THE WRESTLER) again on screen though the man is definitely showing his age (and his glass eye). A photograph of Mickey Rourke int he film shows the boxer/star in his hey day.
The film’s climax is expectedly the middleweight championship fight between The Tiger and the racist bully, Bryan Doyle (Michael Pugliese). (Pugliese and the real Nagra wrote the script for this film.) Everyone loves a good boxing match. The camera work is sufficiently effective, well cut to the fight, the spectators’ reactions and the agony on the fighters’ faces. Director Gierson cannot resist using the roar of the tiger on the soundtrack during the final bout.
TIGER ends up a predictable and cliched though relatively entertaining part-biography of boxer Nagra who discovers that winning a fight need not always be in the boxing ring. The film won the Best Film at the San Diego International Film Festival.