The opening weekend figures of Salman Khan’s Tubelight have been as lacklustre as the film itself: an estimated Rs 63.5 crore between Friday and Sunday, and Rs 18.75 crore on Monday, which was the day on which Eid was celebrated across the country, marking the end of a month of fasting and abstinence from movie watching.
Produced for a reported Rs 100 crore and released on 4,400 screens in India over the lucrative Ramzan weekend, Tubelight faced no competition from other Hindi or Hollywood releases. Tubelight is stronger than most other movies, of course, and still boasts of the second-biggest opening in the year after Baahubali: The Conclusion. It is by no means a flop, but hardly as healthy as Khan’s previous trailblazers (a development also known as “being human”).
Kabir Khan’s latest film has all the frills but not the thrills of a typical Salman Khan movie. Tubelight is an official remake of the Hollywood production Little Boy. In the original, an eight-year-old boy believes that he has acquired the power of telekinesis, and he tries to use this power to bring back his beloved father from World War II.
Kabir Khan shifts the action to the Sino-Indian War of 1962, and replaces the father with a brother. Real-life siblings Salman and Sohail Khan are separated by battle, and Salman Khan’s child-like Laxman prays for his brother’s return while also protecting an Indian-Chinese woman (Chinese actress Zhu Zhu) and her son (Matin Rey Tangu) from prejudice and violence.
Tubelight has a peppy soundtrack by Pritam, the Salman Khan imprimatur, and Kabir Khan’s proven track record of delivering crowd-pleasing entertainers. The Khans had previously collaborated on the monster hits Ek Tha Tiger (2012) and Bajrangi Bhaijaan (2015), which portrayed the burly star as a one-man peace mission between India and Pakistan. Tubelight was expected to have expanded on the success of Bajrangi Bhaijaan, and was being regarded as yet another Salman Khan juggernaut weeks before its release.
One of Tubelight’s problems is that its depiction of movie miracles is far too literal-minded. In the original and the remake, the lead characters hold out their hands like magicians casting spells in an attempt to make objects move – a laughable idea when the hands belong to Salman Khan, who has achieved marvels both on and off the screen with half the effort over the past few years.
Tubelight is to Salman Khan what Fan (2016) was for Shah Rukh Khan – a prestige production that spun on presenting its leading man in a different mould, but one that ultimately proved to be too alienating for the general viewing public.
Salman Khan’s nothing-is-impossible image was formed with Wanted in 2008, sealed with Dabanng in 2010, and cemented over the next few years. His box-office dominance meant that his producers landed the choicest of release dates (usually long weekends) and his unassailable equity translated into fat returns from slim pickings (Ready, Bodyguard).
Khan improved on his limited acting range through Bajrangi Bhaijaan and Sultan (2016), but his decision to militate against his carefully built up persona seems to have been responsible for Tubelight’s limp showing. The actor has co-produced the movie, and is therefore wholly responsible for its attempt to give his supermensch image a rest. Every recent Salman Khan release has taken care to tick off every available box – at least one or two brawls that work out in his favour, effortless romance, whistle-inducing dialogue, chartbusting songs, and a plot that has the actor in charge rather than at the mercy of outside forces (as is the case with Tubelight).
A war that ends without Khan’s intervention? A female character that doesn’t fall for him? A brother who returns because of the abstract idea of faith rather than concrete actions on Khan’s part? A dim-witted hero in need of edification? Tubelight is brave but undeniably flawed.
Disappointed Salman Khan fanatics can rest their hopes in Tiger Zinda Hai, the sequel to the 2012 hit. Ali Abbas Zafar, who directed Khan in Sultan, will replace Kabir Khan as the director. The movie will be released on December 22 and will continue the adventures of Avinash Singh Rathore (Khan) and his lover Zoya (Katrina Kaif) in various exotic locations.
Tiger Zinda Hai is likely to stick to the rulebook, and will once again put Salman Khan in the driver’s seat where he belongs. No hypnotic gesturing will be required, and the natural order will be restored.