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Tubelight Review: Better Than The Usual Salman Khan Fare, But Still Underwhelming

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A few minutes into Tubelight, I’m reminded of something Robert Downey Jr’s Kirk Lazarus tells Ben Stiller’s Tugg Speedman in Tropic Thunder –about never going full “retard”. Politically incorrect terms aside, Kirk tells Tugg exactly why his film ‘Simple Jack’ (a parody trailer in the film) wouldn’t work.

Dustin Hoffman, Rain Man, look retarded, act retarded, not retarded. Counted toothpicks, cheated cards. Autistic, sho’. Not retarded. You know Tom Hanks, Forrest Gump. Slow, yes. Retarded, maybe. Braces on his legs. But he charmed the pants off Nixon and won a ping-pong competition. That ain’t retarded. Peter Sellers, Being There. Infantile, yes. Retarded, no. You went full retard, man. Never go full retard. You don’t buy that? Ask Sean Penn, 2001, I Am Sam. Remember? Went full retard, went home empty handed…

It doesn’t help that Salman’s Tubelight bears an uncanny resemblance to Simple Jack. Perhaps Salman needed similar counselling from Kirk before venturing into this war-infused, melodramatic, forced-emotional riding fest that would’ve been cute if it had an eight-year-old as the lead character.

*****

Lakshman Singh Bisht has a learning disability. He is viewed as the quintessential village idiot and for this, he’s called “Tubelight” all his life. Living in the mountains somewhere in Uttarakhand, his younger brother Bharat (Sohail Khan) is the only friend he has who takes him seriously. 

Bharat leaves to fight for India at the Indo-China border. It is the ’60s, and there’s political tension everywhere. 

Months fly by and Lakshman hears nothing from his brother. Employing Gandhi’s principles with some help from the only educated man in the town (played by a terrific Om Puri), Lakshman tries to “end the war” by befriending the recently shifted Indian-born Chinese mother (Zhu Zhu) and son. 

Some gallivanting, songs, and a few miracles later, Lakshman realises that his brother may never come back. The rest of the film plays around that tension – will Bharat ever return to his brother?

*****

Over the years, I’ve watched the soaring success of every Salman Khan film. Not because of the story or the acting, but because he’s everybody’s bhaai. And bhaai has a massive fan base. So as a regular movie watcher, I’ve come to terms with every element that is now a sort of requisite to his films. 

Bad acting is a given. Forced dialogues is a given too, with a sprinkle of comedy and misogyny passed off as humour. Add a completely unrealistic love story, and larger-than-life melodramatic emotionally-manipulative moments that aim at making the audience cry. At least the more gullible ones. 

Bearing all this in mind, Tubelight was, surprisingly, not too bad.

Thankfully, there were no sexist jokes, no over-the-top action scenes, and, most of all, no pointlessly dragged romance. For this, I laud Kabir Khan’s efforts for trying something different with a Salman Khan film. 

Considering that the film is pitched as a war-drama, an overbearing nationalistic scene was on the cards. Even Dangal had that moment when a strategically placed National Anthem led to lumpy throats and the desire to leap out of one’s seat with a fervent “bharat mata ki jai“.

Tubelight had its bharat mata ki jai moment, but with tongue-in-cheek humour. Its characters and lack of a story ensured that it steers clear from anything nationalistic or political. Given the times now, it’s quite a gamble for filmmakers to not tread that path. 

But that doesn’t mean it earned all the brownie points.

What worked was the fact that other characters completely overshadowed Salman’s Lakshman. Even his younger brother, Sohail as Bharat, does a fairly good job and perhaps the only subtle acting he’s ever done. 

Om Puri, as the learned Father Christmas-like uncle, was a delight to watch. It wasn’t the role of a lifetime for him but there were moments when he reduced his audience to tears. Also sad was knowing that his last performance was in a Salman Khan film. He deserved better.

As did Shah Rukh Khan, who has a forgettable cameo appearance. The scene between him and Salman looks like a tussle between who can steal it and be judged the better actor, nay the bigger star. Considering that these two actors resolved their differences recently, their reunion on screen was unsatisfying, reduced to a dragging scene full with unsolicited life lessons.

***** 

An official remake of the critically-panned 2015 American film Little Boy, Tubelight is in no way better than the original. Especially when you have a 50-something trying to play a 30-something character with the innocence of a child. Salman has tried this before (in Priyadarshan’s Kyon Ki) and flunked it, then too. 

Still, it’s a change from the typical ego-massaging Salman films, though it does have a fair dose of repeated jokes. The annoying catchphrases, too. By the end of the first half, I groan at the mention of the word yakeen (faith), something which Lakshman keeps repeating over and over again. The semi-potty position he assumes to do “miracles” is another recurring joke. In hindsight though, it would make a good drinking game. 

*****

The Tubelight review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

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