Tubelight Review

“Tubelight” is Salman Khan’s weakest film since “Jai Ho!” – in every department but Salman Khan himself. (photo provided)

Salman Khan Films presents “Tubelight”

Produced by: Salma Khan & Salman Khan

Directed by: Kabir Khan

Written by: Kabir Khan, Parveez Sheikh & Manurishi Chadha and based on a story by Alejandro Monteverde & Pepe Portillo

Music: Pritam

Starring: Salman Khan, Sohail Khan, Zhu Zhu, Om Puri, Yashpal Sharma, Brijendra Kala, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, Matin Rey Tangu, Isha Talwar, Leo Ching, Neeraj Khetarpal, Amarnath Verma, Vivek Pandey & others; Special appearance: Shah Rukh Khan

Laxman Singh Bisht (Salman Khan) is a slow-witted young (!) man living in Jagatpur, Kumaon. He is thus nicknamed ‘Tubelight,’ and the whole village ridicules him. There are three exceptions: brother Bharat (Sohail Khan), the local do-gooder Banne Chacha (Om Puri) and Maya (Isha Talwar) who works with the old man. Things are still hunky-dory till war breaks out between India and China – it is 1962. Most of the young men in the border town try to join the Army, and obviously, Laxman is rejected. Bharat is selected and leaves for the front.

Almost simultaneously as passions are running high, a Chinese woman named Lee Ling (Zhu Zhu), born and brought up in India and whose husband is dead and father (Lee Ching) is in prison, comes to live in a secluded cottage on the outskirts of this town with her son Guo (Matin Rey Tangu).

Banne Chacha has always looked after Laxman and Bharat since they became orphans, and believes in Gandhian principles. He tells Laxman what Bharat has always told him, to have self-belief and faith (“yakeen”) and look upon even people from enemy countries as friends. He tells him that when his soul is full of love, his self-belief will become stronger. And so Laxman befriends the two, though thanks to a local youth Narayan (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub), mother and son are looked upon in a hostile manner by some inhabitants of the town.

By chance, a passing magician Goga Pasha (Shah Rukh Khan) instills in Laxman the belief that he can move a stationary bottle and that adds to his morale. And all these things come to the fore when Bharat goes missing and is later pronounced dead. Laxman believes he can bring his brother back in the first case.

The film takes a huge chunk of its story from “Little Boy,” the 2015 Hollywood film that did not do well either critically or commercially. It adapts, Indianizes and places the tale in the context of the Indo-China war in 1962, further juxtaposing Mahatma Gandhi’s teachings into it.

And that is the main problem of the film, just as it was with its original. It has its preachy moments (through the character of Banne Chacha), a wafer-thin plot, emotions that end up plastic and fake in most cases, and an inherent lack of substance, spirit, and empathy in the script. One wonders why flops are glorified and lifted for adaptations in place of either hits or original stories.

The film, even at 2.16, seems stretched and horribly slow, lessening the connection with the audiences. Everything seems forced and fake, and there is not even twenty percent of the heart and soul (and brain) of “Bajrangi Bhaijaan.” Of this little part, most are because of Salman Khan’s mature interpretation of his character.

Yes, the script leaves no scope for good performances from any artist except Salman Khan and Yashpal Sharma. Sharma makes a distinct mark as Major Tokas from the Indian Army. His eyes alone speak volumes. Salman Khan is tremendous and the lifeblood of the film. His breakdown scenes in front of Bharat’s photograph and when he is pushed into the water by Narayan as well as his body language, quicksilver expressions and more, along with the inflections in his voice are the highlights of this tepid drama.

Sohail Khan and Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub are alright, while Isha Talwar makes quite an impression in a hollow role. Having nothing much to do are the much-touted Chinese heroine Zhu Zhu (as Lee Ling) and Matin Rey Tangu (as her son Guo), and we can only feel sorry for them, for they try their best. The late Om Puri, sadly, comes across as completely fake, and that is again the fault of the script and the director.

In his short cameo, of course, Shah Rukh Khan continues his recent tradition of good to better performances in below-par films.

Key points that stand out as absurdities in this film and which could have been so easily avoided are: how Laxman forgets to zip up his pants (in those days, buttons were common, and zips were absent, at least for the middle-class!) but still has perfectly ironed clothes and perfectly groomed hair?; why a woman and her small child would choose a remote village and settle down in a secluded cottage for personal reasons when they would have been safer in a big city?; how come the whole town seems to have nothing to do but the crowd in the center of the place to watch one of its weaker denizens (Laxman) in whatever he is doing?; Softy machines that came into big towns in the late ‘60s; what exactly does Banne Chacha do, and more. There could be more on deeper delving, but that would consume needless space here.

The camerawork (Aseem Mishra) is skilled, though if odious comparisons are to be made, not a patch on Salman-Kabir’s “Bajrangi Bhaijaan.” The same goes for the background score (Julius Packiam), again something we cannot blame the musician for, given the below-par working material.

And though “Naach Meri Jaan” and “Radio” are brilliantly written (and the former brilliantly composed), the overall Pritam score is quite tepid. There are two kinds of films made nowadays – those where the musical caliber of a film has nothing to do with the movie’s appeal and calibre (like a “Jolly LLB 2” or a “Dangal”) and those where the standard of a score helps us judge the calibre of the movie (like “Sultan” or “Tanu Weds Manu Returns”) due to the track-record of their filmmakers.

This one fell into the latter category, as most Salman Khan films do, but is certainly the star’s weakest film since “Jai Ho!” – in every department but Salman Khan himself.

Rating: **1/2

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