It is with this very ‘yakeen’ that Salman Khan and his director Kabir Khan made a leap. Salman was cast in a role unlike any run-of-the-mill, average Salman film and director Kabir Khan thought their leap of faith would pay off. But Tubelight wasn’t granted wings irrespective of the kind of faith in their audience the film team had invested. It couldn’t take off in a way we have come to seeing Salman Khan films do. Salman Khan and Kabir Khan’s third film together has managed to earn only about a meagre Rs 83 crore in its first four days.
So while Tubelight flickers at the box office, with a lot of hope resting on what kind of money Eid would bring in, one can’t help but wonder: What is it that the film missed?
The answer is not a simple one.
NOT EASY TO ACCEPT A ‘DIFFERENT’ SALMAN KHAN
When Salman Khan entered the scene in Tubelight, on his white steed, the theatre erupted in applause and whistles that accompany pretty much each of the superstar’s films. But as the film progressed, there was an uncanny silence in the theatre. This was a first day first show of Tubelight. That Salman Khan has dedicated fans who brave everything to watch him on the big screen once or twice a year is no surprise.
In the last three years, I have watched the first day first show of every single Salman Khan film, both Eid and non-Eid releases, inside a theatre. Every first show of a Salman Khan film is famous for the deafening cheers and seetis from his fans. Kick (2014), Bajrangi Bhaijaan and Prem Ratan Dhan Payo (2015), and Sultan (2016). But nothing of the sort happened during Tubelight.
It was as if viewers were just trying to figure out what was wrong with Salman Khan. With both his on-screen character Laxman Singh Bisht and him for choosing a script like Tubelight. There were uneasy giggles and suppressed laughter at even the lighter moments during the film. The only scene in Tubelight which saw the theatre clap was where Laxman beats up Zeeshan Ayyub’s character, a jerk whose favourite pastime is bullying him.
In Salman’s post-Wanted career, since 2009, people have seen him in larger-than-life roles, be it a Chulbul Pandey or a Bajrangi who crosses borders to take a Pakistani girl home to her parents against all odds. For an average Salman Khan fan, seeing Bhai crying his heart out on screen is disturbing. So even though the superstar might shed all his inhibitions on screen and push himself to make full use of his lacrimal glands, for his fans it is an uneasy experience to see him like this in a film.
Tubelight was marketed as the big ‘Eid Release’ of 2017. Goes without saying, there was a mountain of expectations from the film. You don’t get to see a big-budget Salman Khan film every day after all. There’s mostly a year-long wait associated with a Salman film. After Bajrangi Bhaijaan, the film that made even Salman’s harshest detractors give in to his charisma and praise him, people wanted a film at least like his 2015 release if not anything better.
Last year’s Sultan too was a treat to watch thanks to the kind of physical effort that Salman put in – and all of that was visible to the viewer.
Salman exposing his pot-belly in the famous mirror scene in Sultan made many a viewer misty-eyed. But with Tubelight, there are so many scenes where you are forced to feel compassion for the lead character that you are compelled to give up after some time. How long can you go on seeing Salman this vulnerable?
The festival of Eid, for Salman Khan fans, has become almost synonymous with a film which makes you see Salman the superstar in all his glory. A Salman Khan shorn of all his superstardom and made to be human is a great risk that director Kabir Khan took. While that paid off the first time, with Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Tubelight just felt like a watered down version of the 2015 film but missing most of its delightful parts.
Tubelight has many parallels with Bajrangi Bhaijaan. Similarities that are tough to miss. Both the films have Salman playing a simple, non-macho person. Both the films have a child actor to propel the story forward. Both the films deliver a message of peace against strained inter-country relations. But while Bajrangi Bhaijaan felt fresh and effortless, Tubelight had none of the nuance and layers that the former boasted of. As a result, while Tubelight suffered from a strong Bajrangi hangover, there was nothing much to redeem it.
NON-MASALA SALMAN FILM
Every Salman Khan film is known for the generous doses of masala that it gifts viewers with. Tubelight had none. It was a simple story, simply told, with a simple man at its centre. But that is not all that people want from a Salman Khan film. In the years since Salman Khan put his stamp on the Eid holiday, we have hardly seen him veer off his usual course.
The only film in this period that did not fare comparatively well is Jai Ho (2014). Salman Khan played a common man and tackled the issues of corruption in the film, and it was not an Eid release. Jai Ho just about made it to the 100-crore club in India: its lifetime collection in the country is Rs 107 crore, a number that is abysmal by the post-2009 Salman Khan standards.
NO BOLLYWOOD ACTRESS
While a Salman Khan film is known for dedicating about 99 per cent of its run-time to Bhai’s antics, the leftover per cent is nearly always for the lead actress. In all of Salman Khan’s films after Wanted, apart from Jai Ho, Salman Khan has been paired with one famous actress or the other.
Tubelight was a disappointment on that front too. The script did not have any room for a big Bollywood female name. Director Kabir Khan roped in Chinese actress Zhu Zhu for the lead role. Bhai did not have any scope of romancing Zhu Zhu’s character in Tubelight. People missed a recognisable actress’s name in Tubelight.
And finally, while there is not much evidence as to whether this could have been a reason behind the low opening weekend collection of Tubelight, it cannot altogether be ignored. Days before the release of Tubelight, Salman Khan told the media how he felt that people who order wars should be given guns and sent to the battlefront. He said how war was all about devastation and nothing good ever came out of it.
Now while on the surface the comment was quite a sensible one, some people managed to hound Salman for that too. They felt it was ‘insulting’ to the people who fight wars. Exactly how it was insulting is something only the offended people will be able to tell.
After 2015, when Shah Rukh Khan’s Dilwale and Fan bore the brunt of his now-famous ‘intolerance’ comment, the performance of Tubelight too is accompanied by the same doubt. Did Salman Khan’s message of peace in these war-mongering times put off a section of his fanbase?
Yesterday, the occasion of Eid, held major importance as far as Tubelight’s box office collection was concerned. But that verdict too is out. Tubelight’s box office collection on Monday, Eid, is lower than all other three days. It has earned only Rs 19.09 crore on Eid after Rs 21.15 crore on Friday, Rs 21.17 crore on Saturday and Rs 22.45 crore on Sunday.
Even with many of Salman’s fans making their way to the theatres to watch his Eid release, this is where Tubelight stands. Will the oft-mentioned-in-Tubelight ‘yakeen’ be enough to turn the tides in favour of Salman Khan?