Salman Khan in Tubelight
Directors have always designed films around Salman Khan's stardom and never his acting chops. Kabir Khan tries to change that connection but this Tubelight has turned out to be all flicker and no light - t2 review on June 24
Four days later, it's official: Salman Khan's trademark Id blockbuster has become his dimmest box-office show in recent times, failing to cross the Rs 100-crore mark despite a long, festive weekend.
" Tubelight has performed poorly and failed to take off from Day 1 itself. It's shocking that a Salman Khan film has fared badly at the box office," Mumbai-based trade analyst Komal Nahta told The Telegraph today.
The June 23 film, directed by Kabir Khan and riding high on their 2015 success saga Bajrangi Bhaijaan, has turned out to be a dud by Salman's fabled Id release standards. Till Monday night, the film had earned (only) Rs 83.86 crore, making this Salman's weakest Id opening in six years.
"What's surprising is that #Tubelight hasn't crossed 30 cr *on a single day* till now... Not on Sun... Not even on Mon (Id holiday)," tweeted trade analyst Adarsh.
That pretty much sums up the box-office flicker of Tubelight, in which Salman sheds his swagger to play a simpleton who believes that faith will help him bring back his brother (played by sibling Sohail Khan) from the border in the middle of the India-China war of 1962.
"We never thought that Tubelight would do such poor business. The film has been a non-starter at almost all our multiplexes. We had an average weekend and even on Id Monday, footfalls improved marginally, and only at a few centres. On the whole, the film has been a no-show by Salman Khan's standards," said Subhasis Ganguli, regional director (east), INOX.
So what is it about Tubelight that's failed to please the Bhaijaan brigade? The trade puts it down to Salman in the role of a simpleton, a size zero storyline, hardly any action and no romance.
"We have to accept that it's a poorly written film and the audience lost interest in Tubelight right from the trailer itself," Nahta said.
For most of its 136-minute running time, Salman's Laxman Singh Bisht - or Tubelight, the slow one - is shedding tears, being bullied and generally appearing helpless. How long can you see Salman crying buckets, a pair of new boots slung around his neck, asked trade pundits.
Repetitive scenes - like Salman trying to move objects, bottle to mountain, with his " yakeen" (faith) - have also put viewers off and stopped a repeat audience.
Clearly, Salman's yakeen in his ability to break the Bhaijaan mould - with a film full of hugs and tears, more hugs and more tears - and in his fans' desire to see him shed his swag on screen was misplaced.
"You go to watch a film and I believe that people come out of the theatre changed. When you watch a good film... one that you connect with and it's about noble people... you want to be that person.... I want to help people become better human beings," is what Salman had told t2 in the run-up to the release.
The lukewarm response at the box office suggests that the audience has connected neither with Tubelight the film nor with the nobility of his Laxman.
"This is just not a Salman film. The character did not do justice to him. The aura and charisma were missing. It's a very slow and boring movie; I wouldn't recommend it to anyone," said Calcutta-based businesswoman Deepika Agarwal, a Salman fan.
So what did the Kabir Khan-Salman Khan combination do right in Bajrangi Bhaijaan to rake in more than Rs 300 crore at the box office, with a template that had several elements of Tubelight?
The similarities? Salman as an honest do-gooder (Pawan in Bajrangi and Laxman in Tubelight), a cute-as-a-button child actor (Harshaali Malhotra there, Matin Rey Tangu here) and a cross-border human drama (Pakistan there, China here).
The vital points of difference? Bajrangi, while being passive, provided a sense of latent Salman power peaking in a few high-octave ceeti-taali scenes of beating up goons in a Delhi brothel and then cops in a Pakistani police station.
Salman's Laxman, however, hardly lifts a finger apart from a mild swipe at a village bully and remains bumbling and meek throughout. Plus, the romance with Kareena Kapoor in Bajrangi, however understated, had ticked another vital Bolly box that Tubelight fails to do.
The Salman-minus-swag gamble has not worked for the superstar and his hat-trick director (Ek Tha Tiger-Bajrangi Bhaijaan-Tubelight), who tried to push the envelope with this story of a simpleton and his faith, adapted from Alejandro Monteverde's 2015 film Little Boy.
"I am pushing myself (with different roles). But I don't think I can take credit for this. The credit goes to the directors who are bringing these films to me. My job is only to pick the best from what is offered to me," Salman had told t2 when asked about choosing Tubelight.
He had admitted that being Laxman had been the "toughest" for him. "My body language is not that. The way I speak, think or walk is not that of a simple, innocent man-child. When people see me, they think of Dabangg, Wanted or Kick (all action-packed blockbusters that ruled the box office). It was difficult to make people think of me being simple.... It's very difficult to play Laxman because I am not that person."
The writing is on the Salman wall of box-office fame: His fans want to see him play characters on screen who "speak, think or walk" like their hero.
"We come for a Salman Khan film to see the Bhaijaan we know and love. We felt cheated by Tubelight," said Zahid Ahmed, who has caught the first day-first show of every Id release from Salman in the past seven years.
That is obviously a reaction Kabir Khan had not expected, after a film for which his leading man had done "homework" like never before.
Days before release, the hit-maker had said: "In Tubelight, I saw him bringing his craft to the fore. For Salman to play Laxman... he had to get rid of the baggage of being seen as a huge macho movie star. Salman is the epitome of coolth and machismo. The triumph of Salman the actor is that in the first five minutes of Tubelight, you forget that he is the man with a swagger."
That argument would label Kabir Khan something of a "Mr Tubelight" among Salman fans this week. The simple Bollywood logic today is that Khan fans go to an Aamir film to witness the triumph of an actor, whereas they go to a Salman film to see the triumph of their Bhaijaan.
Case in point: their wrestling films Sultan and Dangal, the two highest grossers of 2016, where Salman was Sultan, the lord of the ring, while Aamir was a portly, grey-haired father who trains his daughters to become champions.
And while on the Khans, the unkindest cut of all for the Salman army this Id weekend could well have been Shah Rukh Khan in a special appearance as a magician in Tubelight getting the loudest cheers in theatres across the country.
So will Tubelight dull the 51-year-old's superstar sheen at the box office? The trade doesn't think so.
"Salman is too big a star to be hurt by one poor film. Tubelight is an aberration in his box-office run and he will be back to breaking box-office records with his next few films," said Nahta.
Next up is Tiger Zinda Hai, the sequel to Ek Tha Tiger, co-starring Katrina Kaif, set for a December 22 release, followed by an untitled Remo D'Souza film where Salman plays a dancer for the first time in three decades.