Sometimes it’s best to keep your cynicism aside to enjoy a movie. Few minutes into Tubelight and you are pulled into the world of Laxman Singh Bisht (played by Salman Khan) who is a dim-witted man. And sometimes you need silly, stupid men to see the world and its complexities through a different prism. Laxman’s world isn’t about going to the office like any other regular 20-something adult. His world is simpler if not sophisticated.
Laxman loves his younger brother Bharat (played by Salman’s real-life brother Sohail Khan). In a sense, Laxman is loyal to his brother. If there is one thing Laxman wants to keep safe and close to him, it’s his brother Bharat. Also, you have to throw another nagging feeling in a dustbin — that two middle-aged, bulky actors Salman and Sohail are trying to play youthful men in their early 20s. If you are able to that, you are just going to be fine.
The film is not about sibling love though; it’s about Salman and his ‘belief’. You see early in the film that the innocent world of Laxman-Bharat is torn apart by a war raging at the border. Kabir Khan doesn’t try to lend a certain gravity to soldiers getting ready to leave their homes to an uncertain war.
He is more focused on illuminating Salman-Sohail’s on-screen bond. You don’t complain because Tubelight is not a war film. Kabir manages to keep war and its grave sequences at bay but uses it effectively to highlight the fragility of human relations in the face of it. There is also an aesthetic quality to war-scenes here. They are not gritty and gruelling in nature as in a JP Dutta film.
There is a scene when Sohail is about to leave and is already on board an army vehicle. Salman’s otherwise constructed, awkward body language gives away to something raw and unimaginable here. Something magical transpires in this particular scene. Salman just breaks down and gives you an act of a lifetime. You don’t cry but can’t stop feeling a slight lump in your throat. It’s a deeply affecting scene. This is also perhaps the most moving performance by a contemporary star in recent times. Salman is not acting here; he reveals a part of himself and puts it out there for you. There is a rare honesty here that shines through. This is a perfect Salman moment and he owns it.
It’s also a genuine attempt by an ageing superstar to display a dash of humanity. And he succeeds, that’s the surprise. That’s what makes it so appealing and endearing. You don’t expect such acts from Salman. That’s why you get hooked.
Unfortunately, the film doesn’t have many scenes that push Salman to put his best show on the table. There are few scenes when the actor in Salman resurfaces and shines. In one scene, he is holding a photograph of Sohail and crying his heart out. That’s another impressive act from Salman. This is not to say he doesn’t falter. Salman more or less feels like an aged, tired man trying too hard to sound and act silly. In a way, his whole body language feels more staged rather than natural.
But you want to blame it on the plot after seeing what Salman is able to do if he is given the right material. A wafer-thin plot fails Salman Khan in Tubelight. One of the problems in Tubelight is everybody surrounding Salman is equally good and humble-natured. So, there is no real clash between Salman’s ideologies with that of crooked, twisted mentality of people inhabiting a much darker world. What ‘good’ is good if you don’t have evil to make it shine?
Tubelight lacks a strong antagonist. China is not Pakistan. In Bajrangi Bhaijaan, we saw Salman Khan tackling a series of challenges to get this girl safe to her country. Tubelight is all more of an aimless wandering in the woods. It doesn’t really want to get out of its comfort zone.
The small skirmishes between Narayan (Zeeshan Ayyub) and Salman’s character feel more like some childhood adventures rather than some serious arguments between two adults. We understand Salman is a man-child, but why Zeeshan is acting like a stupid, grown-up man? And why is he so loud in the film? Narayan makes fun of Salman, even calls him a ‘traitor’. But that’s about it. Army officer Rajbir (Yashpal Sharma) is also given a one-note performance. He is placed in the film to espouse Salman’s viewpoints rather than bringing his own personality. The late actor Om Puri has given a dignified act as an old man who follows Gandhian principles, but to what purpose?
We understand it’s all about Salman, but why thrust it on our face? Instead of elevating Salman Khan to a much more nuanced, layered character, Kabir Khan has dumbed down every other character to bring them to Salman’s mental level. Tubelight is shameless in manipulating you.
The film lacks complexity and intelligence. Kabir Khan subtly questions the nature of patriotism and nationalism, but that again feels more like candy floss. It’s a mere distraction; it hardly hides the loopholes of a weak story. If you’re making a film about a dim-witted man, that doesn’t mean you have to simplify a film’s script also. What could’ve been a luminous, buoyant film about hope, humanity and futility of war is a squandered opportunity? In one word: Tubelight is lazy. It’s a beautiful contrast.
When Salman Khan is finally ready to act, why in the name of God, you won’t give him a fine script? Perhaps he was right all along the way to try not to put efforts into acting. Tubelight is a huge letdown for the actor in Salman Khan. Can he afford the risk again?