In the opening shot from the film, the kids in the classroom are waiting for the flickering Tubelight to finally light up. They are staring at it, urging it to 'Jal Ja! Jal Ja! Jal Ja!' (Light Up! Light Up!). As fans of Salman Khan's Bajrangi Bhaijaan and Dabanng the audience too stares at Salman Khan's unrestrained facial contortions on the screen and pray inside, 'Stop overacting! Take off shirt! Beat up bullies! Stop crying! Why are you so bloated?'
You don't want to wonder why the classroom needs a tubelight to burn in the morning during school hours, you settle down with popcorn for Salman Khan magic to appear and work its way with you.
Salman Khan's brother Sohail Khan appears, but the magic doesn't. Salman Khan is supposed to be the village idiot, a Kumaoni version of Barfi (2012 film directed by Anurag Basu, starring Ranbir Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra), but you are just taken aback at the unrestrained facial contortions and strange string puppet like body movements and you hope something will happen to turn this Barfi gone rancid into the awesome fighting machine or lovable Bajrangi once again.
You begin to chant in your head, 'Take it off! Take it off!' hoping Salman will take off his shirt and fight the village bullies and redeem himself from the awful depiction of a mentally challenged person.
He doesn't take his shirt off. First, the film is set in the hills, and they show him wearing not just full sleeved shirts but also these ghastly sweaters that are three sizes too small. Or is it that his body is so buff that his muscles are straining to get out of confinement. And then the thought pops up: is that why his body twitches so much? Second, the bullies (led by Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, who hates the Chinese, but nobody knows why!) only slap Laxman, no tearing off his shirt when beating Salman. Third, the story is trying really hard to tug at your heartstrings so no muscle shots.
Speaking of heartstrings, Matin Rey Tangu, the little boy who plays Salman Khan's Chinese friend Guao is adorable. Not unlike the Pakistani girl Salman rescues in Bajrangi Bhaijaan, he wins every heart waiting for the real Salman Khan to stand up and show himself. But in Bajrangi, the little girl makes him do the right thing without lying. Here the boy is not given a chance to change the dumb Laxman into a man with a spine. We see Laxman remain the tubelight of the village, dumb and stupid.
The director is conspicuous with his absence. Because the movie gets more and more tedious. Not one character grows in any sort of arc. Bhai remains dumb, the little boy adorable, Bhai's brother who goes away on war remains brave soldier, the village bully remains that. You just wait for the movie to play out. Om Puri's appearance as a mentor who gives Laxman a list of Gandhian Tweets/Quotes and goes off screen is the luckiest character. He facepalms so many times and is exasperated at Laxman and he shows it. The audience alas, cannot.
His stupidity is based on what Gandhiji said to him in person: Conviction ('Yakeen') can move mountains, and it lives in your heart. And of course Laxman takes it literally, and the audience suffers this bizarre Superman on the ground waiting to take off posture in the name of 'yakeen'. We also suffer really bad jokes with the little boy's name which mispronounced sounds like 'shit' literally. Bad childish jokes apart, it doesn't help when the star that you love looks more bloated than buff, you wish someone would push him into a weight loss routine. Give me a good Dabanng over this pretence emotional film any day. The best moment of the film? When Laxman realises the soldiers giving Guao's mum the evil eye and he holds her hand to protect her. That's the Salman we love.
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