Tubelight missed the mark, but Kabir Khan is the closest we have to a modern-day Manmohan Desai

I saw Tubelight in the company of a young, vocal single-screen style audience that has moved to multiplexes, strewing popcorn in the aisles and hurling high-pitched critique at the screen when it runs low on patience. During this film, it ran out of patience every ten minutes, often vacuously hissing “Bhai Bhai”.  Not that Kabir Khan’s sophomore outing with Salman playing golden-hearted dimwit wasn’t at all engrossing - it had its moments. I actually teared up a couple of times, even as 18 year olds cackled on the recliners next to me.  But 30 minutes into Tubelight and it was as clear as the Ladakh skyline that this was no Bajrangi Bhaijaan.

Salman Khan and Matin Rey Tangu in a still from Tubelight. Image via Twitter

Salman Khan and Matin Rey Tangu in a still from Tubelight. Image via Twitter

A bit of a shame, really. I’ve enjoyed Kabir Khan’s oeuvre - Kabul Express was refreshing, Ek Tha Tiger smashing good fun and I’m probably in an elite club that liked Phantom despite the  odd spectacle of Katrina dodging bullets through Syria and Karachi in make-up and Instagram-worthy hair.  (Khan should hang out more with Neeraj Pandey for intel on female sleuths)  Bajranji Bhaijaan hit the pan-Indian sweet spot and Tubelight seemed like it would a thematic follow-upwith similar elements  - an effortless new child actor, the wonderful Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub replacing Nawazuddin Siddiqui - though saddled with a character nowhere as winsome as Chand Nawab –and Salman occasionally pulling corny faces, but also restrained. Additionally, they had a sprightly Chinese actress. Unfortunately, the feel-good moments didn’t come together as a cohesive, magical tale of hope and belief.  Post-interval, when Li Leing’s father is assaulted, someone yelled “Ghar mein first-aid nahi hain kya?” which had a couple of rows erupting into giggle fest.  The couple next to me started snogging. A toddler approached the aisle for a walk, guarded by his parents. I Ubered for salvation.


Cross border do-goodery

Khan is part of only a handful of filmmakers in Mumbai who can pull off the big ticket feel-good blockbuster. Lynch me, but I’m not a big fan of Raju Hirani’s sunshine brand of moral lessons cloaked in college-dorm puns and overstated humour. Anurag Basu’s macaroon-coloured world of fantasy and gentle heartbreak is much more delightful. The filmmaker’s off-screen fart simulating and nipple-pinching antics... not so much.

Kabir Khan is the full package, on and off-screen. He’s good looking, articulate and urbane,  but not in a posh, alienating way.  His simple, neat storytelling style is perfect backdrop to throw in pan-Indian messages of ekta and bhaichaara and gentle political digs woven into silly songs about chickens and selfies. Khan’s secret sauce, his leitmotif, is travel.  But it’s not the aimless wandering of confused lovers on the streets of Corsica and Vienna.  His characters cross borders and brave bullets atop postcard-perfect glaciers only for higher purposes. Without forced melodrama, the filmmaker manages to drive audiences to emotional crests, like Manmohan Desai did.  Khan has admitted to have been influenced by the 70s masala hitmaker of multi-starrers that made you sing, dance, cry and believe in God and goodness. Bajrangi Bhaijaan’s ‘Bhardo jholi meri...’ shot at Ashmuqam Dargah near Pahalgam gave me goose bumps, bringing back wonderful childhood memories of Rishi Kapoor lip synching to ‘Shirdi-wale sai baba’ in Amar Akbar Anthony. Khan did one better though; he eliminated the annoying blind ma, crawling towards the shrine

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Touch and Go

Out of the 13 super hit films that Manmohan Desai directed, Amar Akbar Anthony attained cult status. Naseeb (1981) remains a personal favourite but it’s still no patch on the Hindu-Muslim-Christian bonhomie of the former. The pan-Indian feel-good cult blockbuster has a life of its own and even filmmakers know they can’t re-orchestrate it.  Hirani has moved from Gandhigiri and didactic aliens to directing the Sanjay Dutt biopic, where one’ guessing there’s no cause for either hilarity or moralizing. Basu successfully helmed Murder and Gangster before moving to sweeter things.

Khan is being smart and changing up things too, while continuing to be obsessed with cross-border politics. His next will reportedly move deeper into Indo-Sino territory featuring  a zookeeper wandering into China in search of a panda to save his zoo back in India. (He got me at panda; where do I sign up for advance tickets!) After two bright child artists, animals might be the strategic filmmaker’s next master stroke. It’s a travesty that Indian cinema hasn’t yet awoken to the emotional tug of four-legged drama. (Imtiaz Ali has already shifted his attention from love of the human kind to canine, producing a short film, ‘Bruno and Juliet’ which narrates the unusual friendship between two dogs)  I’m currently obsessed with the 2016 British biographical drama A Streetcat Named Bob, so Khan’s move from little humans to fat, furry animals sits very well with me, as it could with audiences across gender, caste and age.  

But Khan’s panda had better not pull a Tubelight. He could nurse Salman Khan back from a coma, or get the nation(s) singing Hindi-Chini bhai bhai. Managing the delicacies of the  inherent Hindu nationalist overtones of that slogan is Khan’s headache. All his audience is rooting for is a tear and smile inducing blockbuster, once again.

Published Date: Jul 09, 2017 11:05 am | Updated Date: Jul 09, 2017 11:05 am

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