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.
(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.
(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.