Synopsis – Tubelight is the story of a man’s unshakable faith in himself and the love for his brother.
My Take – People close to me are quite aware of the fact that despite being a Bollywood lover, I am not what you would call a ‘fan’ of Salman Khan, of course it’s nothing personal, it’s just that I believe for a performer who has been active for 28 years (Yup, that long!), you carry a responsibility to use your stardom to attempt & push boundaries in film making like his fellow actor Aamir Khan has been actively attempting & succeeding for the last decade, and not just green lit any horrendous project with a family production house, because you know, fans will still watch, like the 2011 garbage Bodyguard which ended up raking ₹230 Crore worldwide. However, there is no denying that the festival of Eid feels incomplete without a Salman Khan film to talk about. Over the last few years he has ruled the box office, thanks to his fans who worship him like a demigod, and lovingly address him as ‘Bhai’, and make sure no matter what new controversy the superstar has pinned himself in, they will show up at the cinema halls. Here, collaborating for the third time with maverick film maker Kabir Khan (New York, Kabul Express) to bank on the success of their previous ventures (Ek Tha Tiger, Bajrangi Bhaijaan) while adding on to his constant mania, this venture seemed like a sure shot success right from the moment the trailer dropped in. However, this well-intentioned film shockingly fails to deliver mainly due to faulty script and sedated screenplay. This tale of two torn-brothers aims to be an affecting tale on brotherhood & love, but what is eventually served here, is a bland film, that just never seems to pull the right string.
Adapted from the 2015 Hollywood film ‘Little Boy’, the story follows Laxman Singh Bisht (Salman Khan) who along with his younger brother Bharat Singh Bisht (Sohail Khan) lives in the small town of Jagatpur. Nicknamed as ‘tubelight’, thanks to his inability to grasp, understand and analyze things like others, Laxman is good-natured but slow-witted and spends all his time cavorting on the hillside with his beloved brother Bharat and imbibing lessons in faith from a visiting Mahatma Gandhi. Their benevolent guardian Banne Chacha (the late Om Puri) ensure that Laxman goes through life without too many hurdles, but his idyll is shattered by the 1962 war between India and China. At the wake of the war, the Indian Army invites applications from young Indians to join the army and serve the nation at the time of crisis. While, Bharat gets selected, Laxman is outright rejected and left alone to fend his troubles. However, things change when Laxman comes across the new occupants of the town, Lee Ling (Zhu Zhu), an Indian woman of Chinese origin & her little son Guwo (Matin Ray Tangu). While being Chinese, Laxman hates them at first, but being a follower of the Gandhian principles bestowed by Banne Chacha, Laxman extends his hand in friendship despite the two being receiving end of hostilities from the remaining occupants of the town. Life begins to fall apart for Laxman when he gets to know that Bharat was captured by Chinese Army & is presumed dead. While everyone begins to mourn, Laxman declares that he will get Bharat back with his faith. There’s a whiff of a promising idea at the heart of the film that seems to be built on good intentions and a flimsy conceit. It’s intended as an uplifting tale about the power of self-belief, but it’s weighed down by a wafer-thin plot & a cloying sentimentality. The main problem with the film is that it stands on a tiny plot and never manages to justify its 136-minute run time. Once Bharat leaves for war, the narrative just becomes stoic and to watch Laxman’s relentless effort to bring back his brother with the power of ‘faith’ is just overlong & tedious. Also, the sub-plot involving Laxman’s relationship with the Indian based Chinese Family don’t add much to the goings-on. By the intermission you are left bored and beaten. This is certainly not what you envision when you think about Salman Khan and Kabir, as the two of them have worked their charm before. The whole problem with the film is its plot that is just unpolished, where either things fall out of context or they fail to make any point. Director Kabir Khan, along with co-writer Parveez Sheikh, narrate a straightforward story here and try to exaggerate it beyond limits. The basic idea that they try to convey is about Laxman’s undying love for his brother and his unabashed faith in this love that will possibly help his brother come back hale and hearty post the war. However, the whole drama feels like an overdone nonsense that does not induce any kind of emotion, let alone tears, plus an added dash of ambiguous magical realism (a non-essential scene starring the Shah Rukh Khan) does not help either, as one will find out if one manages to finish watching the film. Like his previous venture, here director Kabir Khan again uses emotion as a tool to move the viewers and certainly, we as an audience do love the emotions, drama, and tears. We as desis definitely love a fully packed film that makes us shed tears but that doesn’t mean we will shed tears seeing Salman cry every other second in the film! The makers make a cringe worthy effort to turn you into a sentimental wreck who will sob looking at Salman breaking down! For some reason, the film seems stuck in the Bajrangi Bhaijaan effect, while I get that when your film earns around ₹626 crores worldwide, you immediately get the team behind it to do the same thing over again, hoping to get the same result & this film seems like a result of the hangover.
For example, India-Pakistan tensions is replaced with the Sino-Indian war of 1962, a scene stealing adorable looking girl with a scene stealing endearing young lad, a heroic journey with a heroic wait, and of course ‘Bhai’ in the center of it all as the do gooder. Also at times, director Kabir Khan seems caught between his own liberal leanings and the demands of making a mass-market film in a jingoistic age. One scene, in particular, was supremely disappointing, where Laxman mistaking Guo for a Chinese boy, insists that he says “Bharat mata ki jai”. “If you’re Indian you’ll say it, otherwise you’re Chinese,” he tells the child, who immediately yells the phrase. This is the sort of reductive thinking that one would have assumed Kabir Khan is opposed to. If there’s a substantive difference between this and ridiculous measures of patriotism like “If you don’t stand for the national anthem, you aren’t a patriot”. Although, the film is too politically correct to not appeal to the average Indian audience. Of course, it may not matter to the international crowd, but when the makers inculcate thoughts of patriotism (nationalism, if I may) into the dialogues, one knows what the story is trying to achieve, and thus pay attention. At the end, however, one realizes that all that Laxman did was fool around with his new friend and his friend’s mother, for an average film-goer, the experience would be foggy, unsatisfying, and deeply disappointing because of factors that are not only related to a poor script. To give its due, the film begins well & the camaraderie between real & reel life brothers offers genuine charm. The sibling story is high on love and emotion, and the chemistry between Salman and Sohail is sweet and a few of the schemes that Laxman comes up with to bring his brother back are quite entertaining. The friendship between Laxman and Guo is also quite charming; their scenes together are the film’s best moments. Of course, there are few moments which are also quite enthralling, for instance, Laxman taking courage to slap his naysayer who he hurts the Chinese family & the scene where Laxman thinks that his brother is dead at the Army camp and closes his ears pretending not to hear the sad news is one of the finest moments from the film. Given the politically charged climate that surrounds us, the film has a number of scenes that reveal the flashes of brilliance that Kabir Khan displayed in Bajrangi Bhaijaan, by questioning the current establishment and juxtaposing ideals of inclusiveness and love against jingoistic nationalism. The handsome production, which is beautifully lensed by Aseem Mishra, has not spared any expense to recreate period detail, and it makes good use of its locations in Manali and Ladakh. Pritam‘s music is surprisingly ordinary. Talking about performances, to be fair, Salman Khan for a change seemed to be trying hard to stretch his capabilities as an actor & even makes a sincere effort to justify the part, but his performance appears too mechanical. Stuck with some resemblances to Tom Hanks from Forrest Gump & Hrithik Roshan in Koi Mil Gaya, it’s hard to see Salman Khan, who has made a career and achieved dizzying heights of success by playing parts that have barely required him to break a sweat, to stretch his limited talent by playing a character with limited intelligence. Normally, the charge against Salman is that he doesn’t do anything new; here, he does so much that you’ll be begging for him to go back to his minimalist ways. Naive and childlike isn’t his forte and that’s quite apparent here. Mind you, there are a few scenes he handles marvelously but overall the impact was just missing. Sohail Khan takes you by surprise here! Even though he doesn’t get much to do here, his performance is quite genuine. The Khan brothers are surrounded by an ensemble of dependable actors in supporting roles, who don’t disappoint. In one of his final roles, the late Om Puri shines & grabs your attention in every scene. Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub is perfectly mean as the bully while Yashpal Sharma is likable. Matin Rey Tangu, the little boy in the film, takes away all the focus from Salman. In fact, when he shares on-screen space with Salman is the only time you feel for him. Matin is extremely cute and shines throughout the film, making tons of fans in the process, a complete show stopper! Zhu Zhu (Cloud Atlas, Marco Polo) has limited screen presence but makes it a point that you fall for her every time she appears on screen. The much hyped Shahrukh Khan cameo disappoints. On the whole, ‘Tubelight’ is disappointing as it rests on a poor plot and lacks the power to enthrall and mesmerize despite some likable camaraderie between the Khan brothers.
Directed – Kabir Khan
Rated – PG
Run Time – 136 minutes