Movie Review: Tubelight.
A tale of brotherly love, Tubelight has highs and lows but soars on the infectiously earnest performance of Salman Khan.
I’ve been looking forward to Tubelight for several months. Sultan, another blockbuster wrestling movie from India like Dangal, put Salman Khan on my radar. The promotional material for Tubelight was intriguing: it showed a war-time drama about two brothers with serious notes but also a lighter musical backing. (I would say the trailer misrepresents some aspects of the film, but not overly so.) The main character is a developmentally challenged adult, and that put me in mind of another war-time drama with lighter tones: Forrest Gump.
The analogy doesn’t line up, but that ends up being good for the movie. Salman Khan imbues main character Laxman “Tubelight” Bisht with an earnest and affable nature that has more nuance than Tom Hank’s cultural icon. While the film does address war, social injustice, and small town prejudice, the true heart of the story is the love between two brothers that transcends any obstacles. In this facet, Tubelight is an uplifting and moving film that overcomes several imperfections in the story.
In a small mountainous town on the border between India and China, a young boy name Laxman with developmental problems wishes for a brother. Fate conspires to give him a younger brother, Bharat, who becomes his hero. Strong and clever and indomitable when it comes to protecting his older brother, Bharat urges his brother into becoming a good man. When the pair grow up, they are torn apart by war. Bharat goes to serve in the looming war between India and China, but Laxman cannot get into the army because of his intelligence. When Bharat’s division goes missing, Laxman does everything he can from his village to reunite the brothers, eventually changing the lives of everyone around him.
A Tale of Two Brothers.
Where Tubelight shines is in the performances of Salman Khan as Laxman and Sohail Khan as Bharat. Brothers in real life, they exude a fearless care for one another that sells the entire premise of the film. I’ve rarely seen two actors have such obvious chemistry, and every time they are onscreen together the film soars.
In addition to an uplifting portrayal of brotherly love, Salman Khan is magnificent as Laxman. His affectations, mannerisms and delivery as a man who is functionally a child are excellent. I’ve spent a lot of time working with special needs children, and I saw many of their bright and eager behaviors in Salman’s performance. His unsophisticated morality and literal mindedness inform all of his actions and are very believable. Unlike Hank’s Gump, Laxman is flawed and fallible. He engages in the xenophobia of his neighbors against the Chinese before learning better, has tantrums and outbursts, and must grow as a character instead of being an autistic Super Man.
Hurdles and Triumphs.
Tubelight does many things well, but is not a perfect film. The cinematography is vibrant and beautiful but suffers from some dodgy visuals. The CG work is not top notch, and one early sequence where the brothers ride wild horses has some dubious practical effects as well. The stumbling blocks are there, but overall the film is visually engaging.
The pacing of the film is another aspect that suffers from uneven quality. The first 45 minutes of the film are a joy. The sequences where Laxman and Bharat are together and must separate are moving and compelling. After this, the film has a few rousing action scenes from the war-front, but then bogs down in an hour of domestic drama as Laxman befriends a Hindi family with Chinese origins who the townspeople persecute. The relationship between Laxman and the young son of the family is meant to mirror his relationship with Bharat, but doesn’t work as well because the young actor in the role is not great. Luckily there is a real rapport between Salman and the boy’s mother, played by Zhu Zhu, which is strong.
The ending of the film regains the tempo and emotional heft of the first act. There is action, emotion, and a wonderful dance sequence to jumpstart the film. Speaking of dancing…
The Sound of Music.
The soundtrack of Tubelight is excellent. Each song is rousing and perfectly captures the moment at hand. Those who are leery of big Bollywood style song and dance can put their mind at ease; there are two big dance numbers in the film, but they happen very early and very late. I happen to love Indian dance sequences, but realize they often interrupt the flow of a movie for Western audiences. Not so here. They come at the perfect moment, are great fun, and they don’t intrude on the film.
They also do such a fantastic job of characterization and world building that I couldn’t see the film without them. This first sequence does so much to show the unconditional nature of Laxman and Bharat’s relationship, I could watch it over and over:
We Are Family.
While this film has many tough issues in play, it remains unapologetically family friendly. The whole presentation reminds me of American musicals of yesteryear such as The Sound of Music. That is another family drama in a war-torn setting that doesn’t shy away from hard truths while celebrating family and optimism, all while incorporating fantastic musical numbers.
Tubelight does not quite rise to the timeless level of such musicals, but what it does well it does very well. I absolutely loved Salman Khan’s portrayal of Laxman, and I think he and Sohail Khan had such a rousingly beautiful story that I would recommend the film just on those grounds. The overall story is strong but suffers in places for an overlong run-time. Fans of the genre are going to be pleased with the excellent musical numbers, and newcomers could do much worse than start their introduction to Bollywood style films with Tubelight. In limited release, I would urge people to give this movie your attention.