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Flicker and Out

Saturday, June 24, 2017
By Deepa Gahlot

Kabir Khan
Cast: Salman Khan, Sohail Khan, Om Puri, Zu Zu, Matin Rey Tangu and others
Rating: * *

After the love-thy-enemy message in 'Bajrangi Bhaijaan', Kabir Khan repeats it in 'Tubelight', replacing Pakistanis with Chinese, and keeping on his simple-minded hero played by Salman Khan.

Salman had played a taciturn wrestler in 'Sultan', so the audience got the idea—incorrect as it turns out—that the crowd-pleasing superstar was willing to play mature roles. However, in 'Tubelight', he plays Laxman, a child-like, slightly retarded man, the townsfolk in his Kumaoni village tease with the chant, “Tubelight, jal ja”. The film is based on the English film, 'Little Boy', in which the protagonist was a child, susceptible to taking simple homilies like “Faith can move mountains” literally. The 'Forrest Gump' kind of role simply does not suit Salman, who keeps trying different ways of scrunching up his face to cry or popping his eyes out in the attempt to look cute.

Laxman’s beloved younger brother Bharat (Sohail Khan), who looks after him, enlists in the army when the Indo-China hostilities break out. As a kid Laxman was given a lesson in the power of “yakeen” (faith), by none other than Mahatma Gandhi; in the present, a visiting magician (Shah Rukh Khan in a charming cameo), convinces Laxman that he can do anything if he believes he can. So Laxman believes with all his might that his faith will bring his brother back (which rather cruelly implies that those who lost loved ones in the war were lacking in faith!).

The brothers’ mentor Banne Chacha (Om Puri) gives Laxman a list of Mahatma Gandhi’s sayings and asks him to live by them to get rid of the negativity in his mind. As if to test him, the village gets Chinese residents in the form of the pretty young woman Li Ling (Zhu Zhu) and her precocious son Guo (Matin Rey Tangu). During the war, people of Chinese origin—even those who were Indian citizens-- were imprisoned, and Li Ling came to the remote village to keep her son safe. As the village local Narayan (Mohammad Zeeshan Ayub) tries to attack the “Chini” enemies, Laxman befriends Guo and protects the two. Even so, in a discomfiting scene, he forces Guo to shout Bharat Mata Ki Jai to prove that he is a real Hindustani. (Anybody who keeps abreast of the news, would shudder!)

In spite of its overflowing sweetness, and significant message of peace and compassion, 'Tubelight' is repetitive, and after a point, boring. The locations are easy on the eyes, Zhu Zhu is lovely and little Matin is adorable, but the film lacks coherence and has very little by way of entertainment, although the Kumaonis are open to gathering in the square and dancing with Laxman.

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