Tubelight: Daring Intentions Overpowered by Shallow Execution
Movie Review by Trijai Nerthi (Rocheston Certified Movie Critic)
Tubelight is a film with good intentions, but its heartwarming qualities do not seep through to the right places. With a strained central performance in one hand and a stretched out narrative in another, a film that could have been so much more resorts to being barely ordinary.
Set in 1962, Tubelight follows Laxman Singh Bisht, a child-like Kumauni man whose slow-wit and naiveté causes him to be the object of ridicule amongst a gang of bullies led by Narayan. But all the bullying and ridiculing in the world cannot shatter Laxman’s faith.
Soon, the ongoing India-China war creates a tense atmosphere and a fear stricken Laxman anxiously waits for his brother to return from fighting for the Indian army. The undeterred faith he grasps on to and the effort he takes to bring his brother back forms the core of the plot.
Tubelight is loosely based on director Alejandro Monteverde’s 2015 war-drama, Little Boy. Only instead of a boy being ridiculed for his relatively small physical appearance, you get a child-like man with a slow wit. Little Boy takes its faith from Jesus but Tubelight replaces this with Gandhian ideologies.
It is nice to note that director Kabir Khan continues to hold on to his daring qualities as he explores a plethora of political scenarios through his films. As expected, his Tubelight too has many political inferences based on the hostile state of affairs surrounding our nation. For instance, the Anti-Indian accusation that caught the headlines recently subtly makes its way into a scene where a character is asked to prove his loyalty to the nation by uttering “Bharath Mata Ki Jai”.
While this daring steak is quite admirable, the problems in Tubelight start to unravel when the lack of an arresting screenplay and real concerns run dissolute. The first half sails smoothly, camouflaging its messages in the plot. But the second half ruthless undoes everything the first half effortlessly builds up. Post intermission, the screenplay goes too far trying desperately to milk emotions out of the audiences. It goes on to douse greatly on dramatics, eventually losing its spark to a shallow narrative.
The earnestness that endearingly shined through Bajrangi Bhaijaan goes missing in Tubelight. Halfway through the film, it trades its honest approach to obtain a manipulative tone.
When Gu Won and Li Lieng become a part of their story, you start to expect an array of arresting nuances. But what could’ve been so much more is here on reduced to a few flat-falling references. As time progresses, you realize that their presence is merely used to accentuate the point Tubelight intends to make. Wouldn’t it have been more authentic if the director had allotted more space for these characters to develop? In fact, the film could’ve raised a strong voice against racial discrimination through this plot point.
As Banne Chacha, the late Om Puri helms his role with utmost conviction. You warm up to his character instantly. Even Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub was good as the ruthless bully Narayan. Unfortunately, Salman Khan and Sohail Khan’s play against type have failed them in Tubelight.
Salman’s effort to stray away from a hero worshipping roles has to be appreciated but his shortcomings as an actor and his desperation to get the nuances right becomes increasingly visible as the film progresses. Some of the actor’s best scenes in the film are with Matin Rey Tangu (Gu Won).
Music is the weakest link in Tubelight. The songs seem to have been placed in the narrative in a please-all attitude this film could have done without. If it had stuck with its unapologetic tone, it would have come off even more hard-hitting. Songs like Radio and Tinka Tinka Dil Mera only serve as an unnecessary distraction.
Visually, the film is spectacular. Kudos to cinematographer Aseem Mishra for trying his best to cleverly cover up the plot holes in the film.
On the whole, Tubelight’s daring intentions sink due to its shallow approach supported by tiresome acting.