Tubelight: Nothing dazzle worthy about Salman’s boring, bogus naïveté

Salman Khan as a wide-eyed, pure-hearted paragon of virtue alongside a knee-high angel made for some heartrending drama in Kabir Khan’s Bajrangi Bhaijaan.

The director recreates this imagery to make a case for innocence-prevailing-against-all-odds even more ardently if not half as effectively in his latest offering, Tubelight.

While Bajrangi Bhaijaan balanced its marshmallow idealism with sly politics and legitimate humour, Tubelight has an atmosphere of laboured decency.

In the absence of offsetting elements, the sweetness feels as synthetic as its smattery illustration of the 1960s.

Set in a scenic Kumaon village against the backdrop of the 1962 India-China War, Tubelight ropes in everyone from Mahatma Gandhi to his followers (Om Puri in a kindly, posthumous appearance) to harp about yakeen ki taaqat — it’s not a phrase but a punctuation mark in this movie.

In this oddly modified remake of Alejandro Gómez Monteverde’s Little Boy, Salman plays a character written for an eight year old by going the man-child way in the tradition of Hrithik Roshan’s Koi… Mil Gaya. It worked with Hrithik, but not with Salman.

The star tries too hard to act cute bursting in an angry pout or puerile tone when not feigning embarrassment about his perennially unzipped pants aimed to bare his slow-minded condition, exaggerated klutziness and lack of guile.

What’s worse is how Tubelight manipulates the viewer into warming up to him by contriving scenes of victimisation in the form of an unduly quarrelsome Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub (stereotype alert).

It takes a good deal of suspension of disbelief to accept middle-aged men as naujawans — and Salman and brother Sohail Khan, playing siblings on screen too, in all their beefy-bodied, puffy-faced, vest and khaki shorts-clad enthusiasm don’t really look the part.

Though Tubelight, shot by Aseem Mishra in golden light and sparkling hues, wears a freshness that’s befitting of its alpine landscape and makes everything it touches — wool, wood, wrinkles — look new.

The brothers share a close bond and it shows more genuinely than most of the sentiment in the film.

When Sohail leaves to join the ongoing war, Salman discovers the potential of his belief with the help of magicians and munchkins.

He has a fascinating encounter with a charismatic illusionist (played by Shah Rukh Khan) whose piercing eyes, mysterious smile, sympathetic smile suggest he hasn’t quite forgotten the pain of being ridiculed for not being like everyone else in My Name is Khan.

The duo share stage and exchange inspiration that comes in handy when he meets the adorable kid (Matin Rey Tangu) and his elfin mother (Zhu Zhu). They’re all delightful yet with nothing significant to contribute.

If Tubelight had a real story and wasn’t just flip-flopping between monotonous episodes of fluky coincidences treated like divine intervention and cursory battle scenes devoid of danger, urgency or tension, it might have earned some points for heft and affability.

Sohail, despite a brief screen time, is a source of endless frustration. His impending fate drags this already slow movie even more sluggishly to its predictable conclusion.

Having said that, it’s hard to ever dismiss Kabir Khan in entirety. His sensibility is profound even when distracted by the mawkish facets of storytelling.

The erstwhile documentary filmmaker craftily remarks at our tendency to uphold superstition over science as well as the ridiculous expectation from a section of citizens to constantly validate their nationalism as the ongoing debate of growing intolerance rages on till today. Scenes where Salman and Tangu compete over a high decibel of Bharat Mata Ki Jai reveal deep-rooted prejudices.

Alas, not enough to be dazzled by the boring, bogus naiveté of Tubelight.

This review was first published on rediff.com

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Bank Chor Review: A drab circus of laughs and thrills

The title alludes to an expletive in the tradition of Delhi Belly’s DK Bose. It’s not mere wordplay, but also metaphorical of the deception Bank Chor has on its mind. Too bad this flat farce doesn’t have the wits to pull it off.

Directed by Bumpy for Y-Films, an offshoot of Yash Raj Films, this low-budget, low-rent comedy thriller starts out as a bumbling bank heist where everyone’s a conscious idiot — the victimiser, the victim. 

Except this brand of funny by the virtue of I-know-I-cracked-a-bad-joke doesn’t quite tickle.

There are ample opportunities after its revolver-totting troika of thieves (Ritesh Deshmukh, Vikram Thapa and Bhuvan Arora) announces their intention to rob a bank but quickly reveal their ineptitude at the job, especially since one of the hostages happen to be rapper Baba Sehgal.

The only genuine haha moment is a running Mumbai versus Delhi dispute between the Faridabad and Ghaziabad residing members of Ritesh’s gang.

Thapa, Arora nail the harmless dimwits even as their leader, adept as he is at playing these roguish goofballs, infuses whim in gags that are too blah to take off.

Outside the bank though, cops and CBI led by Vivek Oberoi looking like a 21st century musketeer, twiddle their fingers and bark ‘No comments’ to the media, basically one journalist (Rhea Chakraborty), while the loony robbers drag on the circus.

One would still give this frivolity a chance if the makers had the sense to utilise Baba’s presence for campy laughs, but what ensues is disappointingly shoddy.

As is its lame attempt to see a joke in chef Harpal Singh Sokhi’s random presence, Oberoi’s name being Amjad Khan or a Tagore-chanting journo asserting her ArGo (Arnab Goswami) fangirlism.

After a wobbly stab at humour, Bank Chor brusquely shifts gears in its second half as if it was possessed by another genre, what’s the name — damage control?

The mood gets dark, the pace picks up, consciences kick in, masks drop off, threats are ping-ponged and the twists begin to fall in line. Of course, it’s all supremely contrived, and, frankly, quite absurd.

Even if one overlooks at the glaring loopholes in its tonal switch and professed slyness, it’s frustrating how much Bank Chor delays its denouement because nobody cried wolf.

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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Despicable Me 3 Review: A zany joyride of retro and reunions

Gru and gang are at it again.

Usually I’d say that with a lot of trepidation — franchise wary as I am, week after week enduring an onslaught of rotten sequels and reboots.

But it’s a relief to report that this lively animation (reuniting the director duo Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud along with screenwriters Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul) still packs plenty of bang for its buck.

Whether you’re a kid, accompanying one or neither of the two, there are still lots of reasons to catch Despicable Me 3 in the theatres. Let me tell you mine:

Two Grus are better than one

Gru, the surly supervillain turned Anti-Villain League agent with a nose that could put a toucan to shame, learns he has a twin brother, Dru.

A rich, wealthy, wimpy and winsome contrast residing in a posh mansion overlooking a scenic vista and imaginative town fair. (Cheese-grating slides, anyone?)

Together the monochrome-clad brothers bond over their father’s legacy and a renewed passion for mischief.

Despite the deja vu feels of this track, Steve Carrell’s ingenuity in playing off the two siblings and their uniquely European accents gives their differences an agreeability that stays clear of melodrama.

It’s retro cool villain!

Sporting a purple body suit with shoulder pads, mullet hair and funky moustache, not only is Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker) the most outlandish looking antagonist of the series, he’s the most amusing too.

An erstwhile child star taking to real-life villainy after puberty hits him at its most unkind and the network cancels his show, Bratt is still bitter about the episode and deploys all kinds of retro devices to wreak havoc.

Michael Jackson looms large in his inspirations as moonwalks to Bad, hurls a yo-yo to break a vault, chews incessant quantities of ‘super sticky, self-inflating gum’ and ensures every antic is accompanied with classic chart toppers by the likes of A-ha and Madonna.

It’s love for the 1980s

It’s not just the soundtrack that’s buzzing with retro love, but Bratt’s delicious, disturbing regard for nostalgia is evident in his gadgetry that uses everything from a robot to Rubik’s cube or revisiting reruns of his star-making show.

Why the Minions, of course!

Gru’s army of cheerful, chirpy yellow complexioned handymen spend a good deal of their screen time away from the boss, doing their own independent gig.

It’s a parallel track that has little to do with the central plot, but watching the cutest mainstay of this franchise explore their untapped songster potential or plan one of the most imaginative prison breaks is too much of a hoot to complain.

Gru’s babies

Gru’s adopted brood of Margot, Edith and Agnes amp up the adorability quotient adequately.

Whether it’s to surprise their parents with a concoction of meat and gummy bear soup or discovering a thing or two about moms, boys and goats — although Edith is somewhat short-changed — the cutie patootie trio keeps the ‘awws’ coming.

Vroom vroom pace

Despicable Me 3‘s bouncy, breathless inflow of droll action is designed to keep the younger members of its audience with very little attention span engrossed till the end.

At 90 minutes, its energy is much too zany and vibrant, peppered with enough imagination, to exhaust.

Riot of candy colours

Bubble gum pink, Cadbury purple and every other hue of candy boldly splashes itself before the screen lending the proceedings a joyous, effervescent soul that’s a treat to behold, 3D or no 3D.

Self-aware wit

The twins trope, an 1980s has-been star, a mother becoming more confident about her parenting skills and kids discovering not everything they believe is real, there’s predictability to these arcs.

The writers realise this and treat their quandaries and environment with a shrewd mix of sentiment and parody.

Despicable Me 3 goes wild with its comic creativity, throwing uproarious imagery of everything from a Sistine Chapel ceiling featuring pigs to a disco ball-aided diamond robbery to Minions gate-crashing Hollywood studios, life around these guys is all very hectic and hilarious.

Joie de vivre

Despicable Me has enough soul in its heart, substance in its artistry and spring in its step to try and subvert the formula just yet.

Although the climax feels bloated and has the appearance of a superhero blockbuster template, it never loses sight of its fun-filled essence.

Its prospects in the sequel business are strong as ever.

Just like those fun, fast and furious re-runs Bratt never gets tired of, it’s easy to warm up to the feel-good fervour of Gru and his ever expanding family every single time.

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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