‘Tubelight’ review: Flickering Barnacles

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There I was, as usual coming out of the Friday show, same theatre, this time from director Kabir Khan’s latest outing Tubelight (here, an Indian usage coined to describe a dimwit, and not a documentary on the fluorescent equipment) wondering what strong beverage to quaff, and also about what made the director remake the 2015 American war-drama Little Boy, that had the tagline, Believe the impossible. (Full disclosure: I haven’t watched the original, and I don’t think I will anytime soon.) I’d just figured out what to think of the movie when I was accosted by a couple of folks from, yes, the very same channel, and pretty soon I found myself in the studio with some mighty and high (pun not intended, I think) folks.

Here’s what didn’t happen that day in the studio, in detail:

Arnab Goswami (AG): Welcome to tonight’s debate on Republic TV! Today, I have with me a panel coup of sorts – let me welcome, to throw light on Salman Khan and Kabir Khan’s latest movie venture, Tubelight – the president of the United States of America, Donald Trump!! Welcome sir, to the show! I believe you agreed to watch the movie and join our discussion as a major courtesy on the sidelines prior to meeting our Prime Minister! Welcome sir!

President Trump (PT): It’s good, very goodly-goody-good, all good!

AG: Ahem! Thank you, sir, for that googl…er, good message. And also on the panel, Tubelight actor, Salman Khan, who I believe, got so much into the skin of his role, that he hasn’t still gone back to being a CFL from a tubelight. Is that true, bhai?

Salman Khan (SK): Tee-hee! Cho thweet, Arnu!

AG: Meh. (Turning to me): And you! What’s your name? Tell me, now!

Me: Umm…

AG: Very good, Umm! Opening comments, all of you! First sir, you! Please tell us what you thought of Tubelight!

PT: I thought, you know, I’d get Sean to issue a statement about the movie.

SK (to me, sotto voce): Ye Sean kaun hai ree?

Me: Not Connery, it’s Spicer.

AG: Anyways, how was the movie? Opening thoughts!!

PT: Sorry losers and haters, but my IQ is one of the highest, and it’s dvfqy higher than Tubelight’s!

AG: Er, what’s dvfqy?

PT: Ha! Go figure!

Salman Khan- dancing boy
Salman Khan: dancing boy.

SK:  Tee-hee! Yakeen ek tubelight ki tarah hota hai.

PT: Eh?

SK: Tee-hee! Faith is like a tubelight.

Me: It must have seemed like a good idea then. Take a beefy….

SK: Tee-hee! Moo se chal, kiye jaa…

Me: …take a beefy, ageing superstar and pivot his role to that of a village idiot, manipulate the script so that Laxman Singh Bisht a.ka. Tubelight’s character (played by Salman Khan) garners sympathy and soaks freshly washed ‘kerchiefs. Anil Kapoor did a shade of it in the unbearable Eeshwar (made doubly miserable by Nitin Mukesh’s playback and Laxmikant-Pyarelal’s pretentious score with an eye on the awards) and he cast a pale shadow on Raj Kapoor’s simpleton act, who in turn eventually became a victim of his own caricature, withering in Charlie Chaplin’s gigantic omnipresence.

AG: What are you rambling about?

PT: This witch hunt must stop, badly bad vffqvfr!

AG: What does…oh never mind. Continue, Umm.

Me: Add a dash of the Khan family with brother Sohail Khan playing the younger brother, Bharat, and the vacuous town of Jagatpur, Kumaon, where its citizens revel and seemingly spend the better part of their lives viciously exhorting Tubelight to light up. If you’re wondering, the story begins in British-ruled India, and reaches its raison d’être in 1962 with the Sino-Indian war. Younger Bharat has joined the army, leaving Tubelight to choke and start his own life. He has, of course, the local guardian Banne Chacha (the supremely talented late Om Puri, supremely wasted here) who’s just about had it with the pestilent Tubelight coming to him for advice on how to deal with the new-in-town Chinese Li Leing (Zhu Zhu) and her precocious, ice-cream loving son, Gu Won (Matin Rey Tangu). Amidst the war, this pair –  who’s as fluent in Hindi as Salman Khan is in adjusting his belt while dancing, while you struggle with how to pronounce Nanqiao – becomes a sitting duck for the folks, especially a gang of youth led by Laxman and Bharat’s childhood friend, Narayan (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, characteristically good, but let down by weak writing.)

Matin Rey Tangu, Salman Khan discuss weighty issues
Matin Rey Tangu, Salman Khan discuss weighty issues.

SK: Dosti ki hai, nibhani toh padegi.

PT: Eh? Wazzat?

SK: I have befriended you all, so I’ll have to nibhaofy.

PT: What’s nibhaofy?

AG: Go fig…erm…ahem! Umm, go on!

Me: Director Kabir Khan and co-writer Parveez Shaika keep the first half of the movie in abeyance with Newton’s First Law Motion – the story stays put, and when it does move, it meanders aimlessly and listlessly along with Tubelight and his Chinese friends, while brother Bharat fights a war that looks more like a day at an adventure sports arena.

AG: What about the second half? Tell us Umm! And PT sir! You too!!

PT: This movie was sponsored by the Chinese government in a bid to take away light manufacturing business out of the US. Dxxvfuqal if I’ll allow that!

AG: Coal down, sir…I mean, cool down!

Me: The second half offers little succor, unless you have plans to catch up on your siesta in the cool environs of the cinema hall. (My hall was cooler than usual, given that there were hardly thirty folks in the wagon.) Brother Bharat goes missing, Tubelight’s at his wit’s end while you begin to think about when it’ll all end.

Salman Khan - straining to move mountains and the audience
Salman Khan: straining to move mountains and the audience.

SK: Teri..ahem…where do you live, Umm?

Me (gulping): Why?

SK: I was planning to come over there for a drive.

AG: There’s only one person who can threaten on this show, and that is me! ME!

PT: I love this show more than animey.

AG: Continue, Umm!

Me (eyeing SK warily): The superb Yashpal Sharma as Major Rajbir Tokas of the Kuamon Regiment is ham-handed here, as he part-snaps and part-bonds with Tubelight, the former pestering him about news of Bharat. There’s a scene where Sharma goes all over the top, his expression as if he was imitating Sanjeev Kumar, and not in a nice way.

PT: Doesn’t sound nicely niceties nice.

Me: There’s more. Brijendra Kala, usually quite brilliant, is underutilized, made to do what nameless character actors did in the 70s movies. Which brings me to the character extras in some of the scenes. I’m not sure if director Khan was paying attention at all, but there’s a scene where the war is announced on the radio, and the good-for-nothing folks are gathered at Om Puri’s place. Just to feel brighter, note the actor who’s standing in the crowd in front, trying to pull off intense expressions, then cups his chin and cracks you up. Or, the scene where the soldiers are given a sendoff by their families as they trundle along in their army trucks. The crowd waves as one, almost in synchronized listlessness, and I could swear I could see at least one lady steal a glance sideways, as if to look at the A.D. for a cue to stop waving. Honestly, what was Kabir Khan thinking?

SK: Hum tum mein itne ched karenge ki confuse ho jaoge…

AG: Enough, SK! And my apologies, PT, no translation for this!

PT: I’ve had enough of FAKE MEDIA!

Me: The comedy scenes work so hard, that you sigh instead of smiling – how can the burly Salman Khan falling onto a vegetable cart be funny? And that yakeen pose that Tubelight strikes – both hands sticking in front in take-off mode, glutes sticking out, straining – makes you want to call him home and give him some Isabgol in hot water. And it doesn’t help (nor is it funny) that he insists on calling the young boy Goo (a cutesy reference to fecal matter, for those not updated in their toilet humor.) A special appearance by a now-friend-former-foe-former-friend actor doesn’t elevate the proceedings.

AG: SK! What do you have to say to all this?

SK: I’ll release this movie in Russia and break Awara’s records!

PT: I’ll Putin a word for you, if you want.

SK: Mujhpe ek ehsaan karna, mujhpe koi ehsaan mat karna.

PT: Eh?

SK: Do me a favor, don’t do me any favors.

PT: Do you want the favor or not? This is confusing, bigly. This is what I call…what’s that word..it’s either ‘vacation’ or ‘vaccination’.

AG: You mean vacill

PT: Who told you about Vassilly? All fake news! All badly bad!

(A voice comes over from behind the studio paneled wall): Mitron…

AG: Ahem! Final words from the panel!! Summarize your thoughts about the movie, please!!

SK: Zindagi mein teen cheezein kabhi underestimate nahi karna – I, ME and MYSELF.

Me: Tubelight pretends to – if not strives to – throw a caring lens at the families whose members go to war. And somewhere toward the end it does flicker into a light of epiphany. But by then, it’s much too late, you’re past caring and want to leave the hall. For, underneath all the ostensibly good intentions and emotional weight that the movie purports to carry, it cruises on careless-mode, accelerating towards a signboard painted “Bore” in all caps and then proceeds to crash into it accurately, and never quite recovers from the mishap. Pritam’s music score does produce some good numbers, but they’re all buried underneath the treatment that’s more yawn than fest.  And finally, for a movie that has an action hero as a goody-slow-witted lynchpin, it takes more than weeping and baleful looks to carry it off – especially when the audience, out of self-pity, is already busy doing both.

AG: PT sir! Please do wrap this up for us!

PT: Tubelight! Humph! It’s covfefe flickering barnacles!!

AG: Lovely, sir! What a PT you aren’t a movie critic!


Tubelight is rated U (Unrestricted Public Exhibition).

 Kabir Khan Running Time 2h 16 min
Writers Kabir Khan, Parveez Shaika
Stars Salman Khan, Sohail Khan, Zhu Zhu, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, Om Puri
Genres Adventure, Drama, War
Watch the trailer of Tubelight here:

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