Mumbai, 23 Jun 2017 11:59 IST
The director has the right intentions and tools to create a human story with a message and political comment, but a thin plot and sluggish pace do him in.
While his films run on sheer stardom, Salman Khan's last few films have been a refreshing departure from his traditional macho avatar, and they have received much love. Bajrangi Bhaijaan (2015) and Sultan (2016) added a new facet to the star's resume which boasts of a long string of superhits.
Tubelight, an official adaptation of Alejandro Gomez Monteverde's Little Boy (2015), is another step in that direction, and shows off his most vulnerable side so far. It sees him in the role of a developmentally disabled Laxman Singh Bisht, who has been mocked and bullied all his life for being slow. The villagers call him 'tubelight'. But his younger brother Bharat Singh Bisht (Sohail Khan) always stands up for him and is his one true friend. The two share a special bond as Bharat looks after, and protects, his innocent brother after the death of their parents.
They ride horses, prance around the village, jump off cliffs, eat ice cream and generally have a great time. The happy times end though when Bharat enrolls in the army, with the the threat of a Chinese attack on India looming large.
An encounter with a magician who uses telekinesis to help Laxman move a bottle and local teacher Banne's (Om Puri) advice to follow Mahatma Gandhi's teachings, makes Laxman believe that if he has enough faith his brother will return unharmed from the Sino-Indian war (1962).
Even as Laxman's story evolves, Kabir Khan weaves themes of triumph of the Gandhian thought over violent defeat in war, and the power of humanity over division on the basis of races and nationality.
Director Kabir Khan is known to play out a personal story with a larger message and a political comment in his films, and does so even in Tubelight.
Here he also takes the opportunity to touch upon the incarceration of the Indian Chinese during this critical period in history. Laxman's friendship with the adorable kid Guo (Matin Rey Tangu) and his mother Li Tsu (Zhu Zhu), who are perceived as enemies by the villagers because of their Chinese origin, relays the 'love thy neighbour' message.
The story involves a series of incidents reaffirming Laxman's growing belief that his faith can indeed move mountains and make things happens. It is a lesson that faith can make a hero out of the most ordinary and even the weakest man. It is a familiar theme that also ran through Kabir-Salman's last film Bajrangi Bhaijaan (2015).
The 1960s era is recreated with good attention to detail. Aseem Mishra's cameras lovingly hover over the beautiful mountains of Ladakh and Manali, which make for a great setting.
Kabir Khan's intention is beautiful — to tell a story of two brothers and the power of self-belief and humanity against the background of a war. But his good intentions and story-telling abilities are unable to brighten the low-wattage plot.
A commendable choice of role, this is Salman's most emotional performance and he cries buckets (more than all his previous films combined perhaps). But it doesn't come easily to him. He appears to be trying too hard, contorting his face often. Salman clearly lacks the range to play a special character like this one, but makes up for it with his childlike charm and sincerity, making you connect with him.
Unfortunately for Salman, apart from his own limitations, the long and tedious sequences that sluggishly push forward the story are no help in elevating his performance and the proceedings.
"Kya tumhe yakeen hai?" is a great line and great theme, but saying the word 'yakeen' a 100 times through the movie does not make the audience believe in the movie!
There is a human story, a brotherly love, the message that faith can move mountains and the futility of war, but Kabir Khan is unable to engage you enough to convey his lofty ideas.
You really want to feel for the movie and root for the triumph of love and faith, but the proceedings are way too tedious and boring for you to engage with, especially in the second half. Reason: The plot is weak and the padding, in the form of tear jerker moments, some genuinely emotional scenes and adorable sequences with Matin, don't do enough to hide its thinness. On most ocassions, it feels like the film is going nowhere.
Kabir Khan has the right intentions and the tools. He has a human story set against a political backdrop that is still relevant in today's volatile political scenario. He also has an actor who, after decades of easy roles in mainstream flicks, is willing to work on his character and believe in the director's vision. Yet things don't fall in place. Tubelight is sadly a film that isn't able to achieve what it set out to, even when it has everything going for it.