Tag Archives: Salman Khan

Movie Review: Tubelight (2017)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the soundtrack at Amazon or iTunes

Much of the critical consensus around Little Boy — the 2015 American movie upon which Tubelight is based — condemns the movie as an offensive form of religious chauvinism. Armed with that foreknowledge, I expected Tubelight to be a disaster. Thankfully, it is not. Though flawed, it’s an enjoyable and touching examination of the lives of loved ones left behind during times of war.

Tubelight resets Little Boy‘s story from World-War-II-era California to the small mountain town of Jagatpur in far northern India during the Sino-Indian War of 1962. Americans can be forgiven for not remembering this conflict, as it happened at the same time as the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Tubelight also recasts the titular “little boy” from the original film with 51-year-old Salman Khan. Khan plays Laxman, a mentally handicapped adult whose nickname “Tubelight” refers to the long time it takes for him to catch on to concepts. His younger brother Bharat (Sohail Khan, Salman’s actual younger brother) is his bodyguard and cheerleader, encouraging Laxman to believe in himself, even if no one else does. The pair feature in a song number about brotherly love made awkward by the siblings’ stiff dance moves.

The most uncomfortable aspect of Tubelight is the degree to which the town condones the bullying of Laxman. Young and old alike feel free to laugh at Laxman for even minor gaffes, and everyone seems okay with this. It’s sad.

Besides Bharat, Laxman’s only defenders are kindly Maya (Isha Talwar) and scholarly Banne (Om Puri). It falls on them to look after Laxman when border tensions between India and China inspire Bharat to enlist. As the conflict escalates, Laxman struggles with his loneliness and inability to bring Bharat home.

In order to keep Laxman busy, Banne encourages him to practice living by Gandhi’s principles, such as conquering fear and loving one’s enemies. Laxman thinks doing so will increase the strength of his belief, thereby empowering him to will his brother’s return. He puts Gandhi’s values into action when a widowed mother named Liling (Zhu Zhu) and her young son Guo (Matin Rey Tangu) move into a house on the outskirts of town. Though Indian by birth, their Chinese ethnicity marks them as outcasts. Laxman overcomes his own trepidation to befriend the little boy, earning him the ire of many townsfolk.

The indulgence by Banne and other villagers of Laxman’s fantasy that he can change things if he just believes hard enough feels wrong. Laxman isn’t a child who will one day come to understand that people were humoring him. He simply isn’t capable. Liling is the only person who reasons with Laxman honestly, trying to explain things in terms he can grasp. She stresses that bad things don’t happen because of a lack of faith, and that self-belief is important for its own merits, not because it can work miracles.

Moments like the conversation between Liling and Laxman give Tubelight authenticity. While Laxman may be particularly ill-equipped to handle something as horrible as war, everyone feels helpless when their loved ones are in danger. For all his intellectual shortcomings, Laxman is quicker to appreciate the distinction between individuals and governments than the rest of Jagatpur. He sees Guo and Liling for who they are, not as representatives of some hostile foreign power.

Such surface-level hatred is personified by the town bully, Narayan (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub). He’s an effective villain because his racism and xenophobia are reflexive and just understated enough that people are willing to follow him. He hears that a Chinese family has moved to town, and his instinct is to attack them. The speed with which he reacts makes it seem as though it is the natural way to react. It’s chilling.

Little Matin Rey Tangu is charming as Salman’s sidekick. They share a funny scene in which Laxman confesses his lies, only to run away before he can face the consequences. Zhu Zhu gives a solid performance, and watching her dance is a treat. Om Puri and Sohail Khan are great in a scene in which they discuss how Laxman will cope without Bharat.

Salman is overall pretty good, but he’s at his best during moments of heightened emotions, such as when Laxman is afraid for his brother or when he’s protecting Guo. His earnestness drives home the importance of rejecting racism and xenophobia as a way to free ourselves from fear and spread peace.

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Bollywood Box Office: June 23-25, 2017

Salman Khan’s Tubelight debuted in second place in the United States among new Indian movies, behind Allu Arjun’s Telugu film DJ: Duvvada Jagannadham! Salman squeaked out victory in North America overall thanks to the contributions of theaters in Canada — where DJ didn’t even release. From June 23-25, 2017, Bollywood Hungama reports that Tubelight earned $926,816 from 372 North American theaters ($2,491 average; adjusted average of $2,710 from 342 theaters*). Of that total, $169,344 came from 30 Canadian theaters, amounting to 18% of the total earnings from just 8% of the total theaters (342). Gitesh Pandya of Box Office Guru reports North American earnings of $930,058 from 338 theaters ($2,752 average) for Tubelight. That total was good enough to rank in 14th place at the overall North American box office, according to Box Office Mojo.

It’s easy to forget that the notion of Salman as a box office gold mine is a recent development in North America. Until the blockbuster performance of Bajrangi Bhaijaan in the summer of 2015, none of Salman’s films managed to earn more than $2.5 million here. Tubelight should earn around $2 million over the course of its run, putting it in line with the earnings of his releases from 2011-2014 — movies like Bodyguard, Ek Tha Tiger, and Kick. We’ll have to wait until Tiger Zinda Hai releases this Christmas to see if Salman’s superb (if short) string of hits is really over.

DJ: Duvvada Jagannadham took in $873,249 from 190 US theaters ($4,596 average), 15th place overall at the North American box office.

Other Hindi movies still showing in the US:

  • Hindi Medium: Week 6; $9,228 from five theaters; $1,846 average; $773,477 total
  • Baahubali 2: Week 9; $726 from three theaters; $242 average; $20,786,308 total

*Bollywood Hungama frequently counts Canadian theaters twice in when they report figures for a film’s first few weeks of release. When possible, I verify theater counts at Box Office Mojo, but I use Bollywood Hungama as my primary source because they provide a comprehensive and consistent — if flawed — data set.

Sources: Box Office Guru, Box Office Mojo, and Rentrak, via Bollywood Hungama

Bollywood Box Office: July 8-10, 2016

Salman Khan’s Sultan made a ton of money in North America — so much so that it finished in tenth place overall on the domestic charts. During its opening weekend of July 8-10, 2016, it earned $2,327,779 from 309 theaters ($7,533 average). Add to that the $1,012,086 it earned from Wednesday and Thursday (Sultan released on July 6), and Sultan‘s five-day total stands at $3,339,865 in the United States and Canada. That puts its five-day average at $10,809 per theater.

Salman’s movies always do exceptionally well in Canada, and Sultan continued that trend. Even though Canadian theaters accounted for only 8% of the total number of theaters (26 of 309), they contributed 18% to the total gross ($617,134 over five days). That puts the five-day per-screen average for those Canadian theaters at $23,736, versus a $9,621 five-day average in US theaters.

So, does Sultan stand a chance of becoming the highest grossing Hindi film of all time in North America? Probably not. First of all, its five-day total was less than what PK and Dhoom 3 earned in their first three days ($3,508,980 and $3,422,590, respectively). Second, its IMDb rating (currently 7.4) falls well short of PK‘s (8.3) and Bajrangi Bhaijaan‘s (8.1) — though admittedly it could increase — hinting that perhaps Sultan isn’t as beloved as some other blockbusters. Both PK and Bajrangi Bhaijaan went on to triple their first-weekend earnings. I confess that I’m not exactly sure how multipliers work for Wednesday releases, but lets assume that Sultan follows suit. A tripling of its first weekend numbers would put its total at $6,983,337. Even adding in its Wednesday and Thursday earnings only puts its total at $7,995,423 — placing it behind PK ($10,550,569), Bajrangi Bhaijaan ($8,114,714), and Dhoom 3 ($8,090,250). Sultan‘s second weekend returns will give a clearer picture of its box office longevity. But c’mon. Almost $8 million would still be a freaking lot of money!

Other Hindi movies still in North American theaters:

  • Udta Punjab: Week 4; $12,005 from ten theaters; $1,201 average; $1,226,557 total
  • Housefull 3: Week 6; $83 from one theater; $1,322,753 total
  • Raman Raghav 2.0: Week 3; $28 from one theater; $75,681 total
  • Dhanak: Week 4; $24 from one theater; $12,374 total

Sources: Box Office Mojo and Rentrak, via Bollywood Hungama

Movie Review: Sultan (2016)

Sultan3 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the movie at Amazon or iTunes
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon or iTunes

Casting Salman Khan in a film brings baggage and expectations along with his sizeable fan base. Those attendant factors are evident in the story of Sultan, written and directed by Ali Abbas Zafar and produced by Aditya Chopra. The title role requires Salman to play a part unlike the one he typically plays, but the movie never quite allows you to forget that you’re watching Salman Khan.

Rather than opening with Salman’s character Sultan, the film begins with the financial troubles of a failing Indian mixed martial arts league. The league founder, Aakash (Amit Sadh, who deserves more attention in Bollywood), lacked the foresight to include any Indian fighters in his Indian fighting league, and he gets six months to boost audience interest before his investors pull the plug.

Aakash’s dad weirdly touts the superiority of Indian moral values before recalling an impressive wrestler named Sultan he saw up north about eight years ago. Aakash heads to Haryana, only to find that his father’s legendary wrestler is now a pot-bellied forty-something working a desk job at the water department.

Sultan’s friend Govind (the reliable Anant Sharma) gives Aakash the scoop on why his buddy quit wrestling. The flashback showing Sultan’s sporting career and his romance with fellow wrestler Aarfa (Anushka Sharma) is the most typical Salman Khan portion of the film. Young Sultan is an aimless prankster who’s nevertheless beloved by all, with no marriage prospects even though he’s “pushing thirty.” He meets Aarfa, who smacks him around for bumping into her, and immediately falls in love with her beauty and spunky attitude. She says she’s not interested, but he pursues her anyway.

This flashback section — which takes up the first hour — is the worst part of the film. Salman is long past the age where he can convincingly play a brat. His attempts to keep up with the younger cast members either in a footrace or on the dance floor make him look slow and heavy. Sultan’s father’s grey hair can’t disguise the fact that the two men look more like brothers than father and son.

The flashback seems designed to reassure ardent Salman fans who prefer him in this avatar before the un-Salman-like plot turns to come. Salman’s celluloid enemies are almost always external, be they villains or just obstacles in his way. Salman’s characters are morally perfect from the get go, so no character growth is required to conquer said obstacles.

Not so in Sultan. Aarfa calls Sultan out for being a presumptuous deadbeat, prompting him to realize the he needs to work to win not only the respect of others, but also himself. He pours his heart into wrestling and becomes a champion, but success brings other pitfalls. Sultan fails to appreciate the difference between confidence and arrogance, resulting in a tragedy for which he is solely responsible.

When present-day Sultan joins Aakash’s MMA league, he does so with loftier goals than personal glory. Sultan’s presence by no means guarantees the league’s success. Not only is the former champ out of shape physically, he’s emotionally deflated as well. His new coach (Randeep Hooda) takes one look at Sultan’s haunted expression and says, “I don’t train dead people.”

But train him he does, in an entertaining montage that sets the stage for some cool fight scenes. All the fights in the MMA tournament look really good, a huge leap forward since last year’s disappointing Bollywood MMA flick Brothers.

Probably the single best bit of acting I’ve ever seen from Salman comes as a washed-up Sultan confronts the man he’s become. He stands shirtless in front of the mirror looking at his paunch, and tears fill his eyes. Frustrated and sobbing, he struggles to put his arm through the sleeve of his shirt, desperate to cover himself. It’s a scene that could not exist in most of Salman’s recent films, in which his character is always perfect, always the superman.

Zafar brings out the best in Salman on screen, yet the superstar’s off-screen persona is never fully out of mind while watching the film. When Aarfa’s father speaks with his daughter about Sultan and says: “Even God forgives one mistake,” one can’t help but wonder if this is also a plea to the audience on behalf of the real-life star (who couldn’t avoid trouble even while promoting this very movie).

Aarfa is one of the highlights of the film. She’s a fully realized character, with hopes and dreams independent of Sultan. When she makes compromises for the sake of their relationship, they feel like reasoned decisions and not the inevitable reduction of a woman’s roles to wife and/or mother. Sharma’s tough act is spot on.

Obviously, Sultan would have to be a progressive guy to fall for a woman who refuses to be sidelined because of her gender. So why, in multiple media sessions, does Sultan fall back on negative tropes about wives and girlfriends? He tells the press, “She’s not my wife yet, but she’s sucking my blood already,” and they laugh. Why the jokes at the expense of women?

The film also falls on its face when it comes to race. Two of Sultan’s MMA opponents are black, and both are introduced in English as being “owned” by someone, when the appropriate word should have been “sponsored.” One of the opponents is a capoeira expert, and as he leaps to execute a kick, Govinda says, “He leaps like an ape.” Sultan asks of the same fighter, “Is this gorilla or chimpanzee style?” Of all of the animals in the world that jump, Zafar could only think of monkeys to refer to a black character?

Sultan is otherwise a well-executed sports flick that would be enjoyable even with another actor in the lead role. Yet, for better or worse, the movie is all the more interesting for the way the main character’s life reflects upon that of the actor playing him.

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Opening July 6: Sultan

Salman Khan’s latest — Sultan — hits Chicago area theaters on the evening of Wednesday, July 6, 2016, before adopting a full-day schedule on Thursday, July 7. The Yash Raj Films wrestling drama is directed by Ali Abbas Zafar of Mere Brother Ki Dulhan fame and co-stars Anushka Sharma and Randeep Hooda.

Sultan opens tonight in the following Chicago area theaters, with shows starting as early as 6 p.m.:

Sultan has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 49 min.

As of Friday, the only other Hindi film showing in the Chicago area will be Housefull 3, with one show daily at the South Barrington 30.

Movie Review: Dr. Cabbie (2014)

Dr Cabbie_VOD2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Bollywood superstar Salman Khan turns producer for the Canadian film Dr. Cabbie, a comedy that takes a critical look at Canada’s medical infrastructure and immigrants’ ability to assimilate into the culture.

Vinay Virmani — the film’s co-writer — plays Dr. Deepak Veer Chopra, a recent Indian med school grad eager to start his career in Canada. He drags his mother, Nellie (Lillete Dubey), to Toronto, where they move in with her brother, Vijay (Rizwan Manji), and his blonde hippie wife, Rani (Mircea Monroe).

Despite a nationwide shortage of doctors, none of Toronto’s hospitals will accept Deepak’s Indian degree. His new pal, Tony (Kunal Nayyar), convinces the doctor to join him as a cab driver, the city’s go-to job for the over-educated and underemployed.

When Tony uploads a video of Deepak delivering a woman’s baby in the back of his cab, it launches Deepak’s career as a mobile freelance doctor, even if means he has to practice without at license. It also jump-starts Deepak’s romance with the new mom, Natalie (Adrianne Palicki).

There are some especially charming equations in Dr. Cabbie. Virmani and Palicki share a comfortable chemistry, Deepak’s earnestness pairing well with Natalie’s savvy.

Best of all is the friendship between Nellie and Rani. After initially resisting the move to Canada, Nellie is quickly won over, taking to Rani’s life of massages and facials like a fish to water. Impressed with her sister-in-law’s golden tresses and generous bosom, Nellie dons her own blonde wig and pads her bra with socks.

The funniest part of the film is Vijay’s recounting of his proposal to Rani. A flashback shows the audience the truth of what happened in a way that is far less rosy than the story he tells his sister and nephew.

The tone of the film is generally light, and so is the criticism of the Canadian medical system’s inefficiencies. Most of the racially tinged humor is benign, although a few instances are cringe-worthy.

Tony’s character exists for the purpose of inserting as many sex jokes into the script as possible, and the vast majority of the jokes just aren’t funny. It’s hard to imagine a woman being charmed by Tony’s catcalling and the set of blue plastic testicles hanging from his cab’s bumper. A subplot involving Tony’s Italian landlord and the landlord’s daughter should have been ditched entirely.

Though not perfect, Dr. Cabbie has enough cute moments and winsome performances to make it worth a glance.

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Bollywood Box Office: November 20-22

Salman Khan’s Prem Ratan Dhan Payo faltered in its second weekend in North American theaters. From November 20-22, 2015, it earned $602,044 from 307 theaters ($1,961 average), bringing its total earnings in the United States and Canada to $3,929,227. [Update: Box Office Mojo’s reports weekend earnings figures for PRDP that are about $25,000 higher than those reported by Rentrak.]

PRDP‘s box office returns dropped by 74% from Weekend 1 to Weekend 2. By contrast, Khan’s second weekend returns for Bajrangi Bhaijaan fell by just 40%. The differences in the two films’ per-screen averages are telling, too. PRDP‘s opening and second weekend PSAs were $7,612 and $1,961, respectively. Bajrangi Bhaijaan‘s PSAs were much better: $9,468 and $5,636.

Not only is PRDP out of the running to best Bajrangi Bhaijaan‘s chart topping $8,114,714, the romantic drama will struggle to clear $5 million in North America, especially with the early release of Tamasha on Wednesday. Still, Khan must be pretty happy having the two highest earning Hindi films in North America this year.

Source: Rentrak, via Bollywood Hungama