Tubelight is watchable only due to Salman's performance; Kabir Khan brings out the best in him
Whenever Salman Khan trends on social media, you can be sure to find two sorts of tweets doing the rounds. One that will have more heart emojis and 'bhai love u' than Salman has abs, and another tweet that will use a blackbuck or a footpath pun (rather badly).
Salman Khan has a large number of fans but he also has a large number of haters, and somehow the latter never gets mentioned. He's always had critics — those who've never liked his stiff performances, and bratty behaviour. But over the years, as his popularity has risen, so have his haters on social media.
However, despite not being a Salman Khan fan or hater, I ended up liking Tubelight more than Kabir Khan's earlier film, Bajrangi Bhaijaan.
When a film decides it wants to hammer home its message, and be blatantly over the top about its "noble cause", it tends to alienate me. And so, save for Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Bajrangi Bhaijaan ended up being a tad too preachy and forceful.
So how does Tubelight rank a notch higher than Bajrangi Bhaijaani? The political messaging in the film is very low-key and Salman's performance becomes a scapegoat for those on whom the sub-texts are lost.
This is the most un-Salman like the actor's ever been, and it could be the reason why the response to the film on its release day was so polarised.
A quick glance through Twitter and you could tell that even some of the most loyal Salman fans didn't like Tubelight. The most obvious question to ask here is how Bajrangi Bhaijaan was appreciated by most on day one, but Tubelight wasn't? The answer lies in positioning.
In Bajrangi, Salman was still playing a saviour and hero of sorts — a pious man who bravely took a Pakistani girl back to her home. There was also a romantic track involving Kareena Kapoor. These tropes are enough for any regular Salman Khan fan.
But in Tubelight — a film that, similar to Bajrangi Bhaijaan, has a strong message wrapped up in a commercial package — Salman is no hero. He plays a simpleton yet again, but there's no romance and no action to satisfy a hardcore fan. Infact there are several scenes in the film where Salman's character Laxman gets beaten up by some bullies, and he doesn't retaliate. The audience around me in the theatre was squirming. How could bhai not hit back?
Tubelight is a platform for Salman Khan to show that he can act.
And act, he does. There are scenes in the film where he just stares straight into the camera and takes his time to cry. His facial expressions move from glow-in-the-dark happy, to melancholic, to playful, in a matter of seconds.
Take a moment to remember the Salman from Chal Mere Bhai, or Veer. His performance in Tubelight is massive leaps and bounds ahead of the days when he thought just turning up on set was doing half his job. There's a proper arc to his character, even when the story remains stagnant. When he says "Kya tumhe yakeen hai" — you can see his yakeen dripping from his face.
There are times when he overdoes the simpleton act, and, like this review states, he goes into the Koi Mil Gaya zone, but I kept reminding myself that this is Salman Khan we're talking about.
Just for sheer effort, dedication and the fact that he could cry so easily and sincerely in the film, Tubelight is Salman Khan's best performance to date. A large part of the credit for this, goes to Kabir Khan.
Kabir probably sees something in Salman that a lot of us miss. He was able to bring out a charming chemistry between him and Matin Rey Tangu — some of the best scenes in Tubelight involve the two, and not a lot of those are playful in nature.
But with the absence of a gripping plot — Tubelight became one-dimension and over-stretched very soon — the good things about the film seem be fading into darkness. For example, it takes great direction and attention to detail to make a Chinese actress speaking in Hindi look so effortless.
It is safe then to say that in Tubelight, the performances of the actors are let down by the script and the film. By the second half, you get tired of Salman doing the same things to emote. You get tired of seeing him upset over his brother being at war. You want more.
But credit where it's due. Kabir Khan seems clear about his story and it's this clarity that shows in the performances. You know that Sohail and Salman are real life brothers too, but it takes keen observations to be able to translate that on screen so effortlessly. Tubelight is also shot beautifully; a lot of the visuals of the hills could easily be screen-savers.
It also takes a lot to keep the viewers engaged in a film where your protagonist is doing nothing that he is known for. It's a big gamble, and we'll only know post-Eid whether it paid off or not, but full marks for effort, to Kabir Khan and Salman Khan.