Let’s Have the Last Word on Why Salman Khan’s ‘Tubelight’ Failed

Why did Salman Khan’s ‘Tubelight’ fail to repeat the magic of ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’?

5 min read

Salman Khan’s <i>Tubelight </i>was rejected by critics and his regular fans.

Quite oddly, in the revenge flick Mom, Ma’am Sridevi, portraying a biology schoolteacher, attempts to define six-pack abs to her students. Points she – and the camera zooms in dutifully – to a poster of a shirtless Salman Khan. Ouch. Would Ma’am have still waxed eloquent on the Khan’s body Gibraltar, in the wake of the no-show at the cash counters of Tubelight? Doubtful.

Let’s Have the Last Word on Why Salman Khan’s ‘Tubelight’ Failed
(GIF courtesy: Giphy/The Quint)

The image has always been the thing for the Bollywood mainstream mughals. Tinker with yesteryear’s ‘angry young man’ syndrome of Amitabh Bachchan or the arms-akimbo romantic balladeering of Shah Rukh Khan, and there’s a hair-pin bend ahead. Drive with caution.

Let’s Have the Last Word on Why Salman Khan’s ‘Tubelight’ Failed
(GIF courtesy: Giphy/The Quint)

For sure, conceded that entrenched images do become a drag. As it happens, though, a redesigned superstar requires expert gear shifts – or genius scripting – which Kabir Khan did carry off with elan, thank you very much to Bajrangi Bhaijaan. The backdrop of the ongoing Indo-Pak conflict served as a topical backdrop. And the innocent, buttoned-up 50-year-old virgin romancing a Kareena Kapoor did emit the sparks of an experiment conducted in a school chemistry lab.

Enough recalled perhaps. So let’s drop the comparisons between Bajrangi Bhaijaan which clicked big-time and Tubelight which didn’t. Just before I leave Bajrangi Bhaijaan, though, let me point out a curious similarity. In both the Kabir Khan movies, the hero’s father is a joke, dropping dead as if the old codger was a piece of timber. In one, the pitaji is so shocked that his Bajrangi beta has actually passed his school (or was it college?) exams that presto there he is, transported to the pearly gates.

And in Tubelight, the father drinks himself to death and drives off a cliff, a tragedy dispensed within a split-second shot. As for the mother figure – the traditional source of the emotional tear-ducts– tchah, who needs to see born-again Nirupa Roys? Salman Khan doesn’t need his elders and betters, to unlock your tear-ducts.

Let’s Have the Last Word on Why Salman Khan’s ‘Tubelight’ Failed
(GIF courtesy: Giphy/The Quint)

So far, so acceptable. Snag is that Indian cinema’s Man of Steel is presented as a cross between Little Boy (er, the l’il one was just eight years old in the original), Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump and er..even Hrithik Roshan as a mentally-backward-bechara-waiting-to-be-a-superhero in Koi Mil Gaya, waah bhai waah, it was probably conjectured that Sallubhai’s fans would be bowled over again.

Low-concept theory that turned out to be alas, in the vein of the film’s title Tubelight which begged for a bashing. “Power Breakdown”, “ Light flickers”, “More darkness than light”, the sub-editors had a blast headlining the reviews.

But see, post-mortems and burial elegies of extravaganzas which ‘underperformed’ (euphemism for a loser nowadays), are purely subjective and can also veer towards the area of clichedom. On the lines of: People didn’t like seeing their bhai vincible. People didn’t connect with the Sino-India conflict of 1962 (don’t rake up the past, yaar). People missed that element of romance with Lady Zhu Zhu. People liked the asli l’il boy Matin Rey Tangu but erm... wasn’t Harshaali Malhotra of Bajrangi Bhaijaan cuter still (oops I brought up BB movie again, sorry)?

People, people, people, it’s endemic to do so much surrogate thinking on their behalf when a B-town bonanza bites the dust, I guess.

Let’s Have the Last Word on Why Salman Khan’s ‘Tubelight’ Failed
(GIF courtesy: Giphy/The Quint)

Wait, abhi to baaki article baaki hai. Instead of thinking on behalf of others, for whatever it’s worth I’ll quickly dhobi-list my reasons for not breaking into a bhangra after getting zapped (not in a nice way) by Tubelight.

  • Above all, an implausible, moralistic story, messy screenplay and lines of dialogue which kept throwing the word ‘yakeen’ (belief) in my face as if it were a custard pie fling-fest.
  • Papas don’t preach too much, not any more. Here, homilies, proverbs and self-improvement lessons rained harder than the hardest monsoon downpour. Silver lining: The late Om Puri kept his poise excellently, serving as an umbrella in the deja heard Gandhian chat-fests with Tubelight bhaiyya.
  • One superstar is enough, a banquet by himself. So why that guest cameo by Shah Rukh Khan as a jaadugar with a new age tattoo on his face? Salman doesn’t need props. At an event, lately, I saw him in close-up. The man’s glowing brighter than neon lights. His charisma is so intense that out-of-towners jetted in just to catch a glimpse. Strange but true, an entrepreneur offered a sum of lakhs for a selfie clicked with the Khan.
  • The high-cost production was technically boot-polished (even a tattered soldier boot was given a quick-fix), boasted of wondrous locations and cool sleeveless sweaters for Salman, with a mall-full of colour-coordinated shirts. Visually appealing, jee haan, but only fancy rubber soles were in sight. Conspicuous by its absence: that key-factor called soul.
  • Lady Zhu Zhu was once married, according to the toothpick-thin plot to a Chinese man. He passed away. The late husband’s father tripped over, if I got it right, to Kolkata. Sub-plot left dangling in the air.
  • Tubelight’s chief foe wasn’t menacing or consistent. Enacted by the otherwise more than competent actor, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayub, he was as as irritating as a mosquito immune to mosquito-coils.
  • The battle scenes with the Chinese, with a touch of let’s blow-up-their-hideout straight out of Guns of Navarone were just not tense, as if the action director wanted to get them over with ASAP.
  • Sohail Khan was meant to be the upright, physically stronger-than-Salman bhai. Tell me another please.
  • Salman Khan, ever the star who can get away with making a pair of heart-shaped glasses and a buckled-belt dance from Dabangg a national craze, is once again subverted as an actor. He's at his likeable best when he's casual and spontaneous. As an actor, like it or not, he still has to earn his spurs. With a script and role which preserve his screen persona and yet draw out that something extra, who knows that could happen. Directors need to understand that there's still limitless potential. Fingers and hope crossed.
  • And to wrap, that Salman Khan hiding that biology-classwalla body beautiful tantamounts to forcing Van Diesel to wear a wig or photo-shop Sylvester Stallone (in his hey day) to delete his Rambo muscles.
Let’s Have the Last Word on Why Salman Khan’s ‘Tubelight’ Failed
(GIF courtesy: Giphy/The Quint)

Earnest plea: Can the real Salman Khan return to the screen, please? We need real super-duper heroes. Not wimps.

(The writer is a film critic, filmmaker, theatre director and weekend painter.)

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