Walking the middle path - 'Tubelight' flickers between traditional and modern takes on nationalism

Last Updated: Sat, Jun 24, 2017 17:24 hrs

Patriotism is different strokes for different folks--for some it means clinging to old concepts in the name of tradition; for others it's embracing modernity; while others are stuck in-between unable to make up their minds. This film is like that. And it's called Tubelight. Well, there's a clue.

Tubelight has a cringe-worthy scene where Salman Khan and a child try to out-shout each other saying ‘Bharat maata ki jai’. What is the need for this blatant declaration…especially in a film that seems to advocate peace among humanity, irrespective of borders?

Tubelight review: Shines but with low voltage

The film is set in a fictional town in Kumaon where Laxman lives his days being ridiculed for his slow understanding of things. He is called Tubelight by the mean neighbourhood boys; a name that sticks through adulthood as well.

Laxman's character has the good-heartedness and naiveté like Pavan Kumar Chaturvedi in Bajrangi Bhaijaan. Naturally, his younger brother is named (you guessed it)…Bharat. Played with restraint by Sohail Khan, the off-screen brothers playing onscreen brothers is a big draw for the film.

Salman Khan plays Laxman as a man-boy, with little understanding of the world’s ways. But we don't know why Laxman talks and behaves like an eight year old. Does he have a special affliction, is he overtly naive, is there a mental health issue, the result of trauma, or all of the above? Nevertheless, it is disconcerting to see one of India’s biggest superstars being effortlessly out-acted by a spontaneous child actor. When the film rests on a single character, but the character itself is sketchy and the actor can't quite nail it as well, the film is difficult to save.

Tubelight is set against the 1962 Sino-Indian war. Bharat goes to war as a soldier, and Laxman does everything so his brother is back safely home. Meanwhile, a family of Chinese origin comes to stay in Laxman’s town and befriends him. But while the film pleads to have empathy to this family, also victims of war, it does so only after they proclaim themselves to be “sache Hindustani”.

Indeed, the positive messages of the film get drowned under confused storytelling. We still don’t understand what the film is trying to say. If it's about the futility of war, why not humanize soldiers from the enemy camp also, at least to some extent. I’d like to believe the muddled messages come from a well-meaning space— a space of trying to appease everybody--the nationalists, the humanists, the star’s fans, and everyone in between.

There's a lot of talk about faith also, and about its ability to move mountains. But honestly, the practical example of the same comes out like a sham with little conviction.

Mainstream patriotic films get by with manipulative sentimentality and painting morality in simplistic strokes. I wonder what would happen if these films removed show-offy nationalism from the picture and replaced it with the concept of humanity. This film admirably attempts the idea, but doesn't have the tenacity to carry it through.

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