Salman and Kabir Khan on new family drama Tubelight and SRK’s cameo
Salman Khan cuts an imposing figure as he strolls into the Tubelight press conference, followed by his brother, and co-star, Sohail Khan and the film’s director Kabir Khan.
He lingers uncomfortably on the stage, eyes like daggers, scanning the room. Someone has forgotten to put out chairs for them.
“Come on,” grumbles Salman. “I think we have spent all the money on the film [and] there was no budget for chairs.”
There are ripples of awkward laughter from the audience, followed by a lengthy pause as Salman refuses to answer any questions until chairs are in place.
The witty but formidable Salman on stage could not be more different to Laxman, the character he plays in war drama Tubelight, who he describes as “really simple, naive and humble”.
Tubelight is a colloquial Indian term for someone who is slow to grasp ideas or what is happening.
“When a tubelight [fluorescent light] comes on, it flickers and comes on after some time,” says Kabir. “It’s also a term we use for people who take some time to understand something.”
Salman says it was “fun” to play such an endearing, Forest Gump-like character but far from easy.
“To play a very naive, childlike person is difficult, especially when you’re 50,” he says.
Tubelight is an adaptation of the 2015 Hollywood movie Little Boy, but whereas that film focused on a father-son relationship, Tubelight explores the fraternal love between orphaned brothers, played by the real-life Khan brothers.
Set in the foothills of the Himalayas in 1962, during the brief war between India and China, the film tells the story of Laxman as he sets out to find his brother Bharat, who has gone into battle.
Salman reveals that he received an unintended helping hand getting into character on set from his body double, Parvez Kazi.
“He is this character [Laxman], in real life,” says the actor. “He is the sweetest man that you could ever come across, so humble and naive, so most of the work that I’ve done [on Tubelight] has been taken from his character – but he is not aware of that.”
Another person on set who helped to draw out Salman’s childlike side was his 5-year-old Chinese co-star, Matin Rey Tangu. They struck up a close relationship during the six-month shoot. When Tangu challenged Salman to an ice cream-eating competition on set, the pair ended up devouring 20 helpings between them.
“Matin is one of the most incredible boys I’ve ever come across,” says Salman. “He’s phenomenal. His 13-year-old brother, Bibing, was joking with him on set one day that they should join the US army. He didn’t sleep all night and in the morning he told his brother: ‘If you’re going, I will join the army too, but I’ll be a chef because I don’t want to die’.”
The film also stars the late Om Puri in his final movie, as well as Chinese actress Zhu Zhu.
Tubelight – the third movie collaboration between Salman and Kabir, after Ek Tha Tiger and Bajrangi Bhaijaan – is being launched on Thursday to cash in on the Eid cinema bonanza.
Such is the “Salman Khan effect” of pulling in the crowds that Kabir says that when he and Salman were shooting Bajrangi Bhaijaan they were mobbed by between 50,000 and 60,000 people in just one hour.
“We chose to shoot some of the movie on location in the old part of Delhi and we became so surrounded by crowds that we had to call off the shoot that day,” he says.
“But for Tubelight, we were shooting mostly up in the mountains and not too many people could make it up there.”
It’s no coincidence that Bajrangi Bhaijaan was also partly filmed in the Himalayas.
“I love the mountains – I think it gives a special visual feel to my films,” Kabir says.
As well as shooting in Ladakh, near the Tibetan border, and in Himachal Pradesh, parts of an old hilltown were recreated in the studio.
“In India, there’s something unique about the hilltowns,” says Kabir. “They are very colonial in their architecture with this old-world charm to them.
“A lot of them have been destroyed now by commercialisation, so we could not shoot in the real towns – we had to build a set for those scenes.”
One of the most highly anticipated moments of the film is a cameo appearance by Shah Rukh Khan. Kabir admits such roles can be “gimmicky” but on this occasion, he says, the film was “screaming for a superstar appearance” – though he declines to reveal what SRK’s role is.
“He appears at a pivotal turning point in the film,” says Kabir. “It sets the film into what it will become after that scene.
“It’s really impactful and that’s what we needed for that story, for Laxman to get totally enamoured by this one experience and then go on to do what he does later.”
• Tubelight will be in cinemas from Thursday
Updated: June 20, 2017 04:00 AM