Happy Tubelight Week! Veer, and Sohail and Salman Playing Brothers

This is a bit of a stretch of a connection, but I’ve been wanting an excuse to write about Veer without really writing about Veer (really writing about it means re-watching the film, making mental notes, going through every moment of the plot in detail, etc. etc.  Not just picking a few themes to discuss), and this is as good as any.  It’s not just Sohail and Salman playing brothers, it’s also Sohail and Salman in a historical setting, so I guess that’s good enough, right?  It’s kind of Tubelight related.

I’m trying to think of a good entry point into this movie.  It’s kind of a Escher painting of thematic discussions.  Everything I try to use as a starting point goes back to something else that needs to be covered first.  I can’t talk about Sohail and Salman until I talk about how their characters are established in the film and that power dynamic and I can’t talk about that until I talk about the historical setting, and I can’t really talk about the setting without talking about who the central characters are and how they work in that setting and I can’t talk about that until I talk about Sohail and Salman as real life brothers and how their characters are established in the film and that power dynamic but I can’t talk about that without the historical setting…..

Gah!!!  I am cutting this knot!  There’s one clear most important thing to know about this movie, Salman wrote the script himself.  Salman has written three scripts in his career, this one and Chandra Mukhi and Baaghi: A Rebel for Love.  They are of varying quality.  Baaghi, his first, is a fairly unusual and original story, a college student who falls in love with a teenage girl recently kidnapped into prostitution.  With an underlying question of responsibility of youth to society, and so on and so on.

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(So long as Salman didn’t also pick out his wig himself, I have no issues with his creative involvement)

Chandra Mukhi is a rough remake of a southern film, with a lot of similarities to Big and Down to Earth (Rita Hayworth starring sequel to Here Comes Mr. Jordan).  So, not terribly original in concept, unlike Baaghi, more just original in that Salman thought it was an interesting idea to remake and could make a good film for him.  Since the official “scriptwriter” for Indian films usually means the person who came up with the concept, and then someone else is hired to write the dialogue, and the director has free range to change scenes around as needed on set, I am going to only give credit to Salman for the concept, and mark it as a minor accomplishment since the concept was already floating around in the air.

And then there’s Veer!  This one is totally absolutely original.  There was a story floating around when it first came out that Salman had written the whole script, and then lost it in a cab or something and had to start from scratch.  The point is, this is a script Salman had the idea for and had been working on for a really really really long time.  It wasn’t like Baaghi, quickly dashed off at the start of his career in a moment of inspiration.  Or like Chandra Mukhi, a rough idea pulled from somewhere else and thrown into a film.  This is something he really really wanted to make.

Which brings me (finally) to Tubelight!  This is another movie that Salman really really wanted to make, he is co-producing it, he is in charge of the promotions, and most of all, he has cast his own brother to play his brother.  Okay, yes, this is nepotism and because Salman likes to work with family.  But it is also a sign of his commitment, that he is willing to put in his family resources to the project.

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(See all that SKF branding?  Plus, he listed his mother as co-producer.  Very personal project for him)

Sohail really is a resource.  He is a kind of “if you like Salman, then this guy is kind of similar and almost as good!” option.  Like Salman in a double role, but not quite.  All of this sounds terribly critical of Sohail, but it isn’t meant to be.  Salman is a major major star and a major major talent.  Being able to be close to his energy is a something to be proud of.  Being able to be close to his energy, but still maintain your individual personality onscreen is even more impressive.

And that resource is on display in Veer.  Okay, so Veer is a seriously flawed movie.  There is a real meaningful message at the heart of it about maintaining Indian identity in the face of Macaulayism, about when it is better to work underground and outside the system rather than within it, about how collaborators can be as bad as colonizers.  The love story works with the themes, giving us a female representative of India torn between her collaborator father and her rebel lover. A gender flip of 1942: A Love Story.

(See how his love for the heroine/the vision of Westernized India, inspires him to change himself into a Western ideal?  Before he realizes the flaws of trying to change and instead forces Westernized India to change herself back?  This is like Gandhi and the spinning wheel!  Only with terrible costumes and period location shooting)

But then on top of the bare bones of the plot (which I am giving Salman credit for, both in coming up with the idea and deciding that this is an idea worth turning into a film), we have some over the top comic moments, over the top action moments, and really really bad historic settings.  Plus, terrible distracting casting of the heroine (Salman has got to stop working through his break-up emotions by casting doppelgangers of his ex-girlfriends, it’s very weird).

(I have a sneaking affection for this movie, but come on!  Casting a teenage girl who looks strikingly like your ex to play a teenage girl who is hopelessly devoted to you is some crazy way of working through a break-up)

Now, Sohail is not actually the problem here.  He is just swept along by the same problems as Salman, but slightly different.  Like Salman, he has to play, comic, action, patriotic, and romantic, at random points, based on random confusing plot shifts.
And he gives it his all!  He is more dedicated and working harder at getting the point across than Salman himself, the star of the film.  But he also acts as kind of a Salman character magnifier.  And as a mega-star, Salman’s character is itself a magnifier for the film as a whole.  If things are bad, they become worse because Sohail is there, making it every so much more so.  But if things are good, they become better because he is there!

Now, I have high hopes for Tubelight.  It’s another historical film with a complex concept that Salman has chosen to throw his weight behind.  I have faith in that, because the central concept was not the problem with Veer.  And I have faith in Kabir Khan, to be able to extract that central concept better than Anil Sharma could.  I love Gadar, but that film was less about historical framework and morality, and more about emotions and relationships.  Veer should have been more intellectual, more focused on high ideas and narrative.  And Anil Sharma took it and pumped in these crazy moments of drama and high emotion that were just a bad bad fit.  But Kabir Khan, he is all about the high idea gently and clearly laid out through narrative.  He should be a good match for the kind of historical story that would appeal to Salman, and which Salman could play well.

And if Salman is playing well, Sohail is playing well.  If Salman is gentle and loving and grounded in his relationship, Sohail will be gentle and loving and grounded in his relationship.  And based on what we have seen so far in the trailers, that is going to be the case.

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6 thoughts on “Happy Tubelight Week! Veer, and Sohail and Salman Playing Brothers

  1. In all three films, Baaghi, Chandramukhi, and Veer,Salman is credited with the story or story concept only. The actual script was written by someone else. Again I have to question the way you represent scriptwriting in Indian films. A “script” in Hollywood terms has three components: the basic story, the structure of scenes and sequences, and the dialogs. In Hollywood, all three components are lumped together, so that if there is a single writer, that person comes up with all three components. But frequently, different people come up with each of the three components, but they are all credited together as screenwriters. In Indian films, the script components are credited separately, so it is clearer who is responsible for what. It is not as haphazard a process as you imply.

    Most importantly, Veer was not an original story by Salman at all. He himself admitted at the time that it is an adaptation of a Russian film, Taras Bulba, that he saw when he was a kid. So who came up with the ideas for “Indianizing” it? It could be any of three — Salman (story), Shailesh Verma, or Shaktimaan (both credited with the screenplay on IMDB). I myself think the latter two are probably responsible for most of it, with Salman possibly giving inputs on some of the ideas he wants to put across.

    Sorry, I don’t share your enthusiasm for Sohail. He pretty much ruins every film I’ve seen him in. Yes, there were times in Veer where I felt that the interaction of the brothers gave glimpses of their real life interaction, but I really didn’t feel it added anything to the film experience.

    BTW, Salma Khan is credited as co-producer on all SKF films, like Hiroo Johar is on all Dharma films. It’s probably a tax related thing, not a sign of filial or personal devotion. 🙂

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    • As I am sure you know, the big difference between Hollywood and India is in the concept of a “bound script”. It used to be almost unheard of for a film to have a bound script before shooting, only the great scriptwriters like Asrar Ali, KA Abbas, Salim-Javed, would do that. For most films, the producer/director/someone would come up with a general story concept. There would be an intensive narration session focused on giving the general progress of the narrative, with certain moments of the film highlighted. That is all that would exist before filming started.

      During filming, there would be a dialogue writer on set to quickly feed lines to actors as needed. And the story would change drastically based on unexpected events, for instance if an actor didn’t show up on a particular day a fight scene might occur between the hero’s best friend and the villain instead of the hero himself. And the director also had latitude to change the story as needed, a sudden impulse to add a fight scene here, or a new character there.

      Only recently have we had the full bound script before filming, with the dialogue writer working in concert with the original creator of the story, and the director remaining more or less true to their vision. I am assuming that Anil Sharma is more of an “old-fashioned” kind of director and Salman is a more “old-fashioned” kind of producer, which would mean no bound script. So I assume Salman came up with the original story, in detail, and narrated it to Anil Sharma when hiring him and so on. And then the dialogue writer came on later.

      On Wed, Jun 21, 2017 at 1:34 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • I am sorry, but this is one of those canards spread by people who are not aware of all of Indian film making. I know for a fact that in the Telugu and Tamil industries, great effort was invested into writing the script; sometimes more than a year was spent on developing it. This was the case well into the 1970’s, which is when all kinds of people without a film background, who thought of movies as a way to make a quick buck, got into producing and the industry took a downturn. So if you start your clock at that time, you can say they had no concept of a bound script, though even during that time, the established and committed producers (I am talking of companies like Vauhini and Vijaya, AVM, heck even Annapurna and Prasad Art PIctures) still continued with their practices of dedicated filmmaking. By the 1980’s, many of the old established producers were no longer operating, though a few, like Suresh Productions, still remained, who kept to the “old” practices. The bottom line is, those who were passionate film makers always paid attention to all aspects of film making, and those who weren’t didn’t.

        I find this quite ironical, because over the weekend, I took a screenwriting course, which started off with the instructors asking, “How many of you just jot down an outline of your story idea, then go on set and improvise with the actors and start shooting your film?” He went on to explain that distributors now have become so wary of films made this way that they now demand to see a script before watching the film, to make sure it would have a proper story. The point was that you need to have a script in place before shooting. 🙂 So this is for independent film makers. A long time ago I read a book by Julius Epstein, one of the screenwriters of Casablanca, detailing the whole process of how that film was made and written. It was very much the way you describe the process above. It was still during the studio system in Hollywood. So the studio had these stars under contract (Bogart, Bergman, et al., as well as all the character artistes), and they had a schedule, but they didn’t have a script. So the writers tried to come up with a few pages each day, just so they would have something to shoot, while they tried to figure out what the heck came next. Its quite interesting to read how most of the “iconic moments” of that film came about through sheer randomness. My point is, a “bound script” is not a reflection of either the commitment or competency of the film makers, nor is the lack of one limited to particular Indian film makers at particular times.

        But to expand on that whole concept of a “bound script”, this can also be taken as an instance of trying to impose a Hollywood framework onto situations where it doesn’t fit. One idea I’ve long toyed with, is to draw a parallel to classical Indian music. Do you know that there is no such thing as “written” music in the Indian tradition? Yes, some people have latched onto it now, because they want to imitate the western practice. But it doesn’t exist in the Indian tradition. This does not refer to just not having a written record of a piece, the point is that there is fixed way for a piece to be played. In fact, the way a musician (vocal or instrumental) demonstrates his/her expertise and virtuosity is to perform extemporaneous compositions during a concert. So all that is “fixed” is the basic framework, while all the “details” are filled in during each performance, and one performance is not necessarily, or even likely, to be the same as the next performance of the same piece. If it was, the audience would revolt in protest. Now I have often speculated that this could be part of the reason why the “bound script” idea is not so important in Indian cinema, because the creative tradition that people have come out of is one where the individual artiste is responsible for creating the complete art work during the performance, with only the basic framework laid down before hand. In such a tradition, the lack of a predetermined plan is not a sign of disorganization or incompetence, but an impetus to creativity.

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        • Did i forget to specify “Hindi film” above? I’m sorry, I meant just Hindi film. There were some scriptwriters who were so respected that their words were used exactly, and some directors who always insisted on it, but usually it was a general story idea that got worked out on set during filming.

          I like your theory that “bound script” is a limitation. Going back to your Hollywood example, there are some arty western directors who try to make things almost entirely improvised. Richard Linklater, for instance. They will have a general idea, like “family eats at a restaurant” for the scene, but everything else can just sort of come together in the moment based on collaboration between the actors, the director, everything else. And they do it like you said, because they want the purest form of art captured in that moment.

          I was also thinking about an older interview I read with Salman where he straight up says that he refuses to learn his lines in advance. His director tells him the scene, tells him the emotion, gives him the line, and he goes out and does it. I don’t think that is because he is a lazy actor, I think it is because he wants that “in the moment” feel. We know he is sitting in on story meetings and production meetings and everything else, he does a ton of prep work. But his style is to get the actual line of dialogue and specific situation he is doing seconds before the camera roles.

          On Wed, Jun 21, 2017 at 4:00 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  2. Of course Salman comes up with his own dialogues. Kareena had admitted as much in an earlier interview.Of course she didn’t see it as a flaw.But it was interpreted as Kareena criticizing Salman.

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    • I don’t see that as a flaw either! People are buying tickets to see “Salman Khan”, and he knows better than anyone else what his fans want.

      Anyway, I’ve never noticed his dialogues as being terribly out of synch with his character, or with the rest of the film, which is what really matters.

      On Wed, Jun 21, 2017 at 11:44 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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