'Tubelight' marks the third collaboration between actor Salman Khan and director Kabir Khan. Their earlier collaborations resulted in two diverse but entertaining films in the form of 'Ek Tha Tiger' (2012) and 'Bajrangi Bhaijaan' (2015). 'Tubelight' is an official adaptation of the 2015 film 'Little Boy'. I have not seen the film but I am aware of the basic premise which was about a child resolving to bring his father back from the war. In the film, the child was nicknamed 'little boy' for being puny in size. Similarly, the title of the Salman Khan starrer has been derived from the term the people around the slow-witted Laxman, the character played by him, use in a derogatory way to humiliate and insult him.
Laxman Singh Bisht (Salman Khan) is a full grown man but suffers from some unmentioned ailment which lends him the maturity of a child. Because of being na?ve and his inability to grasp anything that involves complex detailing, Laxman is called 'tubelight' by the residents of Jagatpur, the small town he resides in. His brother Bharat, though younger to him, looks after him almost as a parent. The year is 1962 and there is a possibility of a war breaking uot between India and China. Young men from Jagatpur are trained and tested to check to check whether they are fit to join the army. While Bharat gets selected, Laxman does not. Bharat is distressed at the thought of leaving Laxman all alone in the town. Banne Chcha (Om Puri), a fatherly figure to both of them assures Bharat that Laxman will be well taken care of and he should go to the warfront along with the other men. The war breaks out in no time and people in the town develop a strong anti-Chinese sentiment. A young widow named Liling (Zhu Zhu) arrives in the town with her son Guo (Matin Rey Tangu). Both of them are Indians of Chinese descent. When Laxman sees them arrive in the town, he alarms the residents about them by saying that the Chinese has started invading their town.
The film tries to send across a good message that faith and resilience can turn things in your favour. It also addresses racism and throws light on the thin line that distinguishes patriotism from jingoism. There is no doubt about the fact that 'Tubelight' aims to be a positive and inspiring film but it misses the mark by several inches. The screenplay (Kabir Khan and Parvez Shaikh) is flimsy and evokes interest only sporadically. There are some scenes that do stand out and linger in your memory after you have are done watching this largely tiresome film. The smartly written scene in which Laxman and Guo compete with each other to find out who can chant a patriotic slogan the loudest, after Laxman proclaims that you are a patriotic only if you raise patriotic slogans, slyly makes a commentary on a situation prevailing in the country at the moment. Some of Laxman's conversations with Banne Chacha and Liling, which result in a paradigm shift in his worldview, are engaging.
Salman Khan lacks the maturity and skill to pull off a character like Laxman. A character which should have, ideally, been endearing comes across as borderline annoying. Salman's inadequacy as a character comes to the fore prominently in scenes which are laced with high emotional context. Sohail Khan does not get much scope but he gets a few scenes to shine and he does not disappoint as an actor. The late Om Puri leaves a lasting impression in his role as the good-natured and wise Banne Chacha. Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub delivers one the strongest performances in the film as Narayan. Zhu Zhu does not have a substantial role as such but the script gives her the scope to make the audience empathize and connect with her character. Matin Rey Tangu is adorable and plays his role to perfection. Yashpal Sharma is good as Major Rajbir. Isha Talwar has a good screen presence and despite limited screen time, leaves a mark as Maya. Shah Rukh Khan's cameo is quite nice.
Despite having an extremely promising idea at the core of it, 'Tubelight' flickers on and off throughout its duration. It is a well-intentioned film that fails to carry the weight of the various themes and ideas it talks about.