Let’s address the Salman in the room first. I meant the elephant in the room. Same difference. By now, we should have made peace with the fact that Salman Khan has become a bobble head version of himself with a ‘Being Human’ logo splashed across his chest.
Of the Khan Troika, Salman Khan is the most pampered. Unlike an Aamir, who has made a habit of re-inventing himself with every film or a Shah Rukh, who dedicates a good amount of time on his washboard abs, Salman Khan doesn’t even bother. “My films are critic-proof!” he brags. And why shouldn’t he? Even as I write this, millions of Indians are probably going “Wah Bhai!” in darkened theatres across India. And outside suburban multiplexes of Mumbai, after watching trial shows of the film, industry-wallahs are composing reverential tweets about Salman Bhai’s performance in the film- ‘Bhai you made me weep! You rock! #BhaiForever’.
The thing is, Salman Khan can take a constipated dump on the screen and we will swallow it happily. Speaking of constipated dump-taking, that’s Salman’s default expression in Tubelight.
When he is not bobbing about the screen and rolling on his equally expressionless brother, the ‘simple-minded’ Laxman Bisht (Salman Khan) furrows his brows, crinkles his nose and pops his eyeballs. He looks like he is trying really hard to pass something big and ugly down his anus. Maybe it’s privilege.
Set during the Sino-Indian war of 1962, Tubelight is the story of a man who probably suffers from a mild form of autism and is solely dependent on his younger brother, Bharat (Sohail Khan), for both emotional and financial sustenance. The younger brother joins the army during the war and its upto the entire village and the over-indulgent Indian army representatives to mollycoddle Bharat and soothe him with lines like “Agar insaan ke dil mein yakeen ho, toh woh chattan bhi hila sakta hai!” (If a person nurses hope in his heart, he can shake mountains).
In the first half of the film, director Kabir Khan spends an inordinate amount of time establishing the camaraderie between the Khan brothers who actually have begun to look like identical twins. Both of them wear sweater vests and checked shirts, both of them have about-to-burst puffiness about them that comes with middle age and a life of, let’s say, unmitigated privilege.
Or maybe even ten minutes of watching Sohail Khan being cutesy was too much for me. I mean, is Kabir Khan suggesting the prospect of the revival of Sohail Khan’s acting career? One Salman Khan is enough for us, thank you.
In the second half of the film, Salman Khan is shown moping about a lot and pining for his brother. And things get a little creepy when he starts singing judaai songs. Like Zeba Bhaktiar in Randhir Kapoor’s Henna or an entire platoon of leading ladies in JP Dutta’s eminently-forgettable LOC. Except that Salman Khan is no Zeba. You are then confronted with the choice of seeing a happy Salman or a sad Salman. It’s like choosing between being lynched for eating beef or being being lynched for eating momo.
Eventually, Bharat is held captive by the Chinese army and it’s upto Laxman and his faith to move mountains and make the impossible, possible. And we all know, in Bhai’s dictionary, no words exist, least of all impossible.
To be fair, Tubelight is a well-intentioned film. It poses some really pertinent questions about Nationalism. Specially in these polarising times, where you have to prove your allegiance to the country by mouthing platitudes.
Glimpses of Kabir Khan’s background in documentary filmmaking can be seen in certain aspects of filmmaking. Research being one of them. One of the main characters, an Indian-Chinese woman seeking shelter in Laxman’s village, talks about the way her family was persecuted in Calcutta during the war and her father was sent off to a camp in Rajasthan. In 1962, the Indian government incarcerated thousands of Chinese-Indians in an internment camp in Deoli, Rajasthan, where they were held for years without trial till 1967.
But all this goes to waste because of the force of nature that is Salman Khan. Have you seen the posters of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, where a giant shark is rapidly heading towards an unsuspecting swimmer?
That’s Salman Khan for you, no matter how hard you try, he will drag you down!