Whenever Salman Khan and Kabir Khan come together (Ek Tha Tiger, Bajrangi Bhaijaan) they have a history of giving the 2nd highest grosser of all time. So if their third film together, Tubelight, becomes the 2nd highest Bollywood grosser of all time (behind Dangal) it will be considered a gargantuan success. But this time the story is a lot more mellow, Salman plays a normal character without any fighting involved, the music hasn’t become a huge hit, and the promos haven’t been unanimously praised. But Salman Khan can sell movies on his own and make them enjoyable through his sheer presence. Will his Eid magic continue this time too?
Story: Laxman Bisht (Salman) is a slow person who doesn’t grasp everything quickly. That’s why he is called a ‘tubelight’ by his school friends and townsfolk. His brother Bharat (Sohail) and Uncle Banni Chacha (Om Puri) take care of him. But the 1962 Sino-India war is on the anvil, and Bharat enlists with the army. Laxman is taken apart from his brother and starts hating the Chinese. Things turn around when a Chinese-Indian single mother (Zhu Zhu) and her son Guo (Matin Rey Tangu) come to live in the town and Bharat gets close to Guo. Through a series of events, Bharat learns to respect people not based on their religion or race. But he also has faith that his brother Bharat will eventually return. So he sets out on a mission to make that happen. What happens eventually? Watch the movie to find out.
Screenplay and Direction: Kabir Khan brought about emotions organically in Bajrangi Bhaijaan. The emotions brought about tears naturally but this is where he goes wrong in Tubelight. The drama is upped an ante in Tubelight and the scale is also higher, but this is what goes against the film as the emotions feel manipulated and the audience almost feels compelled to shed a tear or two. That is not to say, Tubelight is a bad film. It is far from a bad film but the expectations with Tubelight were a lot higher than they were with Bajrangi Bhaijaan (which seemed to come out of nowhere), and it disappoints to that degree. But the bond between the two brothers, the bond between an innocent Indian guy with a Chinese-Indian kid, the commentary on racial tensions, the subtle commentary on Hindi-Chini bhaichara are things which have been brought up beautifully by Kabir Khan. Not a lot of big budget Bollywood tentpole films want to explore the geopolitical relationship between India and China. So Kudos to the team where it is due. And Tubelight is entertaining as a movie too. That helps.
Tubelight has been mounted on a grand scale with well choreographed war sequences, and plenty of world building involved. The production design and costume design suits the nature of the film to the tee. Attention has been paid to details. The war choreography is decently put together but more could have been done to make it seem brutal. The background score is decent and doesn’t impede the proceedings of the film. The music of Tubelight works better within the film than in standalone avatars. Radio is a earworm. Naach Meri Jaan grows in the film, Tinka Tinka is too mellow dramatic.
Acting: Salman Khan, as is the case with all of his movies, is the centrepiece of Tubelight. He could have easily made another action film and made money but being at the top of his game he still decided to go in an unique road playing this character and for that he needs to be lauded. And he has definitely improved as an actor showing more range in Tubelight than he has in any of his films in the last decade. But he doesn’t quite pull it off as you’d want a supreme superstar like him to. His expressions and behaviour is on point technically, though. He is decent in Tubelight but the role had potential to become a classic character. Sohail Khan doesn’t have a lot to do but he looks the part and he’s decent in his role. Matin Rey Tangu is adorable and he pulls off the scenes quite convincingly. Zhu Zhu is beautiful. And she’s darn good at channeling her emotions. The Late Om Puri is perfectly cast in his role. And Shah Rukh Khan makes a magical cameo.
Conclusion: Tubelight is a good movie which is technically of the highest standard. The budget is high, the scale is huge, the production design is almost perfect. But somewhere down the line it fails to do its most important job.. that is to organically connect with the audiences. Emotions feel manufactured and situations can feel contrived. But the superstar goes above and beyond his abilities and has chosen to do a film like this. It takes great courage to innovate when you are at the top of your game. The geopolitical and social commentary portrayed is relevant even today. If you’re expecting a gangbusting action flick, then Tubelight is not the film for you. Watch it for the sweet little friendship between Bharat and Guo (Salman and the adorable Matin Tangu).
- The subtle commentary on racial relations and the geopolitical commentary
- The production design and costume design is top notch
- The music works better in the movie
- Salman’s decision to take on a movie like this
- Salman’s inability to pull off a role like Laxman convincingly
- The emotions feel manufactured and the situations can feel contrived
- Doesn’t quite match the expectations of a great film
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