Mayank Shekhar's Review: Dabangg

By Hindustan Times

Director: Abhinav Kashyap
Actors: Salman Khan, Sonakshi Sinha, Arbaaz Khan
Rating: ***

If you kill me off, Chulbul 'Robinhood' Pandey warns a bunch of goons: “You serve 21 years in jail; thokai alag se (get thrashed separately).”

He says of himself, “Iss policewale ne agar thoka (If I bump you off instead), then promotion (for me); bahaduri ka medal alag se (bravery award comes separate).”

Mr Pandey is a policeman, of course. In the midst of a shootout and while chasing criminals, he never yet lets go of his sense of humour. A Bollywood ‘item song’ recurrently blasts out of a cellphone ringtone, from one of the goon’s pockets. Pandey stops. He starts to gyrate to the song instead.

DabanggThis undisputed cop hero makes no bones about making black wealth from his uniformed job, openly pockets cash, stashes them in his mother’s locker, answers politics with his own deceit, is still the hero, without any signs of redemption (unlike, say, Bachchan’s Shahenshah). He also lives for the moment he could literally tear his shirt off to finally reveal at the end, homoerotic biceps and a shaven, bare torso. The public will accept with open arms this hero, who’s both naked and nakedly corrupt. The producers are convinced. Mainstream movies in that sense, aimed at what they call the masses, subtly confirm a truth or two about a disturbingly changing India. This is stuff for sociology!

Mr Pandey’s a super-hero in the tradition spawned by children’s cinema since the ‘70s (films of Bachchan, Dharmendra, thereafter Mithun, Devgan, Sunny Deol etc). Where the leading man serves for his audience poetic and vigilante justice in three hours flat. This one is merely two hours long. And for a change is relatively richly set, in the under-scaled, dark interiors of Uttar Pradesh.

Salman Khan, perhaps for the first time in his career, sports both a moustache to suggest his provincial maleness, and local accent to suit a lead role. He even stretches his stiff facial muscles occasionally to lend to his fans the rare grin; throws in the odd public service message on polio drops and religion in politics. He is but no underdog up against any system.

It’s difficult to figure what the hero is fighting for really, but his own self. This makes the villain (Sonu Sood) terribly weak; eventual salvation, deeply unsatisfying; plot, fairly pointless. But if you were in with the flow, I suppose, you wouldn’t care.

Salman’s puzzling swagger alone is probably what you walked in for. And this swinging pastiche is a whole lot less of a Bollywood bore than the super-star’s recent event pictures: Yuvraj, Wanted, London Dreams, Veer…. The balance between soulless spoof and self-serious senselessness is also easier consumed here than similar attempts of the recent past (Tashan, Jhoom Barabar Jhoom…). Each time, for instance, the camera swish-pans to a soap operatic scene, the filmmakers make sure to switch into a corny background score from the American Westerns! The genre remains untouched.

The music, largely inspired from Vishal Bhardwaj’s Omkara – title track, or the nautch number Munni Badnaam Hui (the new Bidi Jalaile) – it appears, comes with hoots and whistles as an inserted underlay. Something you suspect about scenes as well. The audience is suitably informed. The action is comically balletic, and when there’s no humour to complete the masala, standalone jokes play out before the screen. This is that epilogue-film-prologue, super-B movie, with reasonably A-budgets.

It'd be a shame to watch this anywhere outside of an old, decrepit single screen theatre, in the spirit of the loud tribal tradition that Hindi movies have always been: severely light on both the brains and the wallet. Mad stuff! Really.

Bollywood.com Rating: 3.5

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