Friday 16 June 2017

The Current Cinema - Adrienne McKibbins interviews Indian superstar Salman Khan about his forthcoming likely Hindi blockbuster TUBELIGHT

Recently Indian superstar Salman Khan was in Australia, with his Dabaang Stage Tour

Salman Khan
Not surprisingly nothing appeared in the mainstream press, despite the enormity of his stardom and the large Indian population in Australia. The Indian press where all over his visit, but mostly to do with the tour, which featured other familiar Indian actors and singers.

For those not aware Salman Khan is one of the top male stars of Hindi cinema, in recent times he has become the most profitable actor working with a series of spectacularly successful films. (All of which have been released in Australia).

June 23rd will see the world wide release of his much anticipated film TUBELIGHT. This will be the big EID** holiday release in India.
The film is expected to enormously popular and in all probability break box office records for some of the following reasons.
·      It is a new Salman Khan film, every new film from him is now an event of sorts. The superstar has been on a roll of hit films lately.
·      It is directed by former documentary film maker Kabir Khan, whose reputation is well known.
·      This will be the third collaboration between director Kabir Khan and Salman, the last partnership being Bajrangi Bhaijaan a film that became the 2nd highest grosser in the history of Indian cinema
·      The film has a cameo appearance by Shah Rukh Khan, an equally known superstar.
·      The official trailer has clocked up some 12 million views, suggesting a global as well as Indian interest in the film.
The official trailer can be seen here

While box office collections are an obsession with media in India, Salman himself is a little more philosophical in that he feels the box office number is not the end game…….. “I don’t think we can make films with just the pressure of box office; that would mean constantly altering our script to match ever changing audience preference. Our best bet is to make a good film and have a larger control on distribution and syndication of our films to maximize monetization….. which is what we are doing with Tubelight.”

Courtesy of Mind Blowing Films, who will be releasing his new film, I interviewed Mr. Khan about his upcoming film. Despite Salman’s comment about box office, all his films since 2010 (bar one) have broken at least one box office record, the most remarkable being Bairangi Bhajiaan which became the 2nd highest grossing film in the history in Indian cinema. In order of Box Office success they are --
·      Bajrangi Bhaijaan (2015)
·       Sultan (2016) ...
·       Prem Ratan Dhan Payo (2015) ...
·       Kick (2014) ...
·       Ek Tha Tiger (2012) ...
·       Dabangg 2 (2012) ...
·       Bodyguard (2011) ...
·       Dabangg (2010)

In spite of having been in the industry since the late 80s and becoming a big star fairly early in his career, (Khan is now in his early 50s) and working with a variety of respected directors the recent films have been some of his best--- content, acting as well as profit-wise.

Two of these films Ek Tha Tiger, and Bajrangi Bhanjaan were both directed by Kabir Khan a former documentary filmmaker. (We mention this as it is unusual to see a documentary filmmaker move to mainstream Hindi cinema, let alone such popular mainstream films with the biggest stars). Tubelight, the new film, is expected to be another box office phenomenon, and according to director Khan, Salman’s best performance.

It was a little hard to know what to expect when meeting Salman Khan, he is not known for his easy relationship with the press and media in India, and does not usually give a lot of interviews. Many of his films would suggest that he has virtually established his own “Salman Khan genre”, which some say is like the real Salman, a tough exterior, misunderstood but with a heart of gold.  Salman himself admits he is not an “actor”. So who is the real man? When I talked to him, he had a very short time before leaving for his on stage performance; he was obviously tired and a little under the weather. Although from reports after the concert, one would never have known as the energy levels where high and the show as spectacular as expected. Salman however proved to be engaging and forthcoming about his career, soft spoken, and seemingly willing to talk honestly about his career. He also demonstrated a rather wry sense of humour.

Director Kabir Khan, star Salman Khan, 
I asked him how he came to work with Kabir Khan, who in some ways seemed an unlikely director to form such a good working relationship with a star like Khan, given Salman’s many masala action films, as Kabir is considered a “serious” filmmaker whose films invariably have a political undertones.

When Salman meet Kabir he had not seen his early film Kabul Express (2006), Salman professes to not watching a lot of current films, but explained that actress Katrina Kaif recommended Kabir after working with him on New York (2009). Salman & Kabir’s first film together was Ek Tha Tiger (2012) which also starred Katrina Kaif. It became the most popular Hindi film of 2012. Although basically a thriller centering on an Indian RAW agent, code-named Tiger who falls in love with a Pakistani (ISI agent) Kaif, it combined all the ingredients that a Salman film might have, with an intelligent and engaging reworking of a familiar subject. It follows the two central characters interaction, in the contemporary political climate, while depicting how Tiger's ideology and principles change over time. Because of the film’s success, it became the first installment of a Tiger film series. The sequel titled Tiger Zinda Hai , again starring Salman will be released on 22 December 2017.

Salman Khan is aware that some of his films have not been great and he admitted that he rarely watches his own films, if they come on television he tends to switch off. His most complete viewing comes at the post production and dubbing stage. Salman stated that he feels Kabir has been able to bring something else out of him, another dimension as a screen performer, while not taking away from his established persona.

He admits that Tubelight will be different from his previous films, but believes it has a strong emotional appeal that will be appreciated across age ranges. He felt part of this emotional pull was helped by his actual brother Sohail playing his brother in the film.

Even though the film has much going for it, undoubtedly it is a film that is not the norm, or perhaps not what is customarily expected from Salman Khan.
Firstly, the film is set against the backdrop of the Sino/Indian Border dispute of 1962.  War films are not a common or indeed particularly popular genre in Hindi cinema. It will be interesting to see how much of an action film it actual is, or if the border dispute is just a backdrop. The story revolves around the character, Laxman whose nick-name in the film is Tubelight, “a bit slow to light up” he is depicted as a man-child. When his brother is declared missing, assumed dead,  Tubelight, refusing to accept this, sets out to find him.

Secondly, the film has no Indian heroine; the lead female role is played by Zhu Zhu, who apart from a small of number of Chinese films has appeared in Cloud Atlas, the Netflix series Marco Polo, and The Man with Iron Fists.
Thirdly, Salman is playing a very naïve, perhaps simple country bumpkin type, which is a long way from his later action hero and early romantic comedy roles that essentially gave him his stardom. However, it must be said, that the three top male stars in Hindi cinema have all been taking on different roles and personas in recent projects, far from the type of films that made them famous. As their stardom is so huge than can all afford to take risks, and Hindi cinema is redefining itself dramatically with the type and variety of cinema now being made. The top three stars , Shah Rukh, Salman and Aamir Khan (not related) are all in their early fifties having played leads since the late 80s for Salman & Aamir and the early 90s for Shah Rukh. It is logical that to maintain their stardom, they must deliver something new for the changing demographics of the audience.

Special note should be made that this is the last film of one of India’s great character actors Om Puri, who died in January this year. Puri would be known to many from his international films, including City of Joy, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, The Hundred Foot Journey, and The Jewel in the CrownSalman said he didn’t want to even watch the trailer of the film, as he was so sad to think Om Puri was no more. Om Puri had appeared in a number of Salman’s films and was only 66 when he died of a heart attack.

Since Tubelight is such a big film in many senses for the Indian industry it has had a number of launches, the first-- the official teaser, then the launch of the first look of the film – its first poster. Then a launch of the official trailer and music launch. The film was made on a budget of 100 Crore (approx. 18 million dollars depending on the exchange rate). Not a cheap film by Indian standards, so it must do well to make back its cost.

As Salman indicated the film has a lot riding on it, especially as it is produced by his own production company Salman Khan Films.When asked why he needed or wanted his own production company, given the risks involved Salman said, with a sly grin
While I fully respect that the director is the captain of the ship, it’s very good to own that ship”
Interview with Salman Khan arranged by MB Films.
Photographs of Salman at the Sheraton on the Park hotel by Bill Green.
Tubelight will release across Australia (and world- wide) on June 23rd2017
** EID is a major Indian religious Holiday. 


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