Tubelight movie review, rating: 1.5 stars
Tubelight movie cast: Salman Khan, Sohail Khan, Matin Rey Tangu, Zhu Zhu, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, Om Puri, Shah Rukh Khan
Tubelight movie director: Kabir Khan
A man child. Or a child-like man. Salman Khan has had long practice of playing one or the other kind of male, and has aced both. His latest alter ego takes the child-like aspect of man several notches higher. Salman’s character Laxman Singh Bisht is called, disparagingly, ‘tubelight’. Why? Simple. It flickers. It takes time to switch on. And then, and then only, there is light.
Because it is Salman, we go in looking for a plot designed to propel him, and us, towards that light. And because it is Kabir Khan, who has the ability to layer mainstream with meaning, and who has given the star one of his most memorable films, Bajrangi Bhaijaan, we hope for the magic to work again.
But this time around, in which the director and the star set their sights on China, it is not to be. Tubelight presents Salman in full Forrest Gump mode. Laxman, the golden-hearted simpleton, not only loves his brother Bharat (Sohail Khan), he also teaches us to love our neighbours, during peace or strife. It matters not where the borders are, and where the battle is; love conquers all.
The message is perfect, especially apt for these manic times. But the effort, on Salman’s part, to come off slow-witted shows in every frame. It’s all contorted face, sing-song delivery; all surface, no depth. And absolutely no nuance. Instead of Hindi Chini bhai bhai, it is more like Hindi Chini, bye bye.
Which is a pity because Kabir pulled off a most entertaining ‘aman ki asha’ with Pakistan by making Bhaijaan a Bajrangi bhakt, and re-uniting a lost little girl with her family. In Tubelight, the director adapts a Hollywood film and goes back more than 50 years (it’s set in the backdrop of the 1962 Indo-China war): Bharat enrolls in the army, goes off to fight, and vanishes. Daily reports of casualties lead to tension in the sleepy Kumaon village where the film is set. A ‘Chinese’ looking mum-and-son (Zhu Zhu and Matin Rey Tangu) becomes the target of the villagers’ ire. Of course, the duo is Indian.
Done better, the two Khans (three actually, because Sohail has a significant share of the screen as well as a co-producer credit), could have said something very important about racism and widespread discrimination against north-easterners, called ‘chinkies’, and other humiliating names. But Tubelight squanders that opportunity because it translates child-like into childish, and simple into simplistic: words like ‘susu’, ‘potty’ and ‘goo’ are used to make us laugh.
Some of the film’s more likeable moments are shared between Laxman and the little boy, who’s completely edible, and an absolute natural. The supporting cast, which includes the late Om Puri, as a father-figure to the brothers, and Zeeshan Ayyub as a local hothead, among others, is solid. Sohail reprises his caring ‘bhai’ role: we’ve seen him as Salman’s younger brother before.
But when the main act isn’t convincing, the film becomes just like the title: too much flicker, too little glow. The one word that’s bandied about in every other line in the film is ‘yakeen’: ironically, that’s the one thing we don’t. Believe, that is. Despite its fluffiness, Bajrangi Bhaijaan was a sharp skewering of communal differences, and a strong call for cross-border ‘bhaichara’ Tubelight aims for the same mix, but falls flat.