Fans of Salman Khan go by an insane logic. He is cool because he “plays himself”. Which means he acts the way he wants, moves the way he wants. What then is the point of the multi-crore enterprises involving hundreds of technicians, a writer and director which have him as the star? Everything else but Khan is redundant. One could perhaps say the same about all our stars to some extent, but in most movies he has acted in in the past decade, this Khan has redefined the meaning of a Bollywood star: flex, frown and fume, and you have a hit. He has proved that a star with abysmally poor acting skills can exist.
In Dabangg, Khan will surprise you. Not only does he look good, but he plays a character for a change—and plays it with some skill.
Chulbul “Robinhood” Pandey is a cop in a small town in Uttar Pradesh where, as you know, caste politics, violence and extortion are de rigueur. Chulbul is a maverick. He is unpredictable and brazen. He can beat small local goons to pulp and kick bad men suspended in mid-air. He stacks his bribe (cash) in his Godrej steel almirah at home. He also distributes that money generously. And he hates his stepfather and stepbrother. But, of course, Chulbul is also a superhero with a good heart who avenges evil.
Fan fix: Salman Khan surprisingly gives a skilful performance; and Sonakshi Sinha is noteworthy in the few scenes she has.
The first half of Dabangg is rife with the rottenness of its milieu. Khan gets some great dialogues—the film’s writing rests on the dialogues, inspired entirely by Hindi heartland humour, which debut director Abhinav Kashyap obviously understands. The humour is risqué. Forty-five minutes into it, and the film begins to plummet to the worst kind of 1980s Bollywood kitsch. Besides the absurd logic, the scenes drag without any meaning or purpose. The cool cop also begins to become quite flat because he is not up against anything or anyone big except a young local politician (Sonu Sood). His love life with Rajo (Sonakshi Sinha), the daughter of an alcoholic (Mahesh Manjrekar) and a potter, and his relationship with his step-family takes centre stage. A larger-than-life hero settling personal scores is the antithesis of the classic 1970s Bollywood hero, which is not a problem if the director does not want to make his intentions of making exactly such a film so loud and clear. Dabangg is not a spoof of this genre either.
The action sequences are not spectacular. Anyone familiar with Tamil and Telugu action films would know that they are basic stunts, enhanced by post-production special effects. It is obvious that like Wanted, the action sequences in this film are choreographed exactly like action films from the south. There is also a hilarious Hulk-like instance of shirt-tearing due to extreme flexing. But the stunts are still better than the film’s script. There are long portions where nothing is really happening or even if something is, you don’t want to know what it will lead to. You are probably just waiting for another song to begin.
The performances are uniformly mediocre. The supporting cast includes seasoned actors such as Vinod Khanna, Dimple Kapadia and Om Puri, but they all come across as junior artistes. None of the characters are etched such that one trait stands out about them and makes them memorable. Sinha, who debuts as an actor, does not have many scenes or dialogues, but in the few scenes she does have, she is self-assured and noteworthy.
Khan’s role is accentuated by his mannerisms, the bhaiyya cowboy swagger and his costumes. Very few Indian stars have seemed so cool in a thin moustache, grey trousers and striped shirts. More substantially, his dialogue delivery and timing are good in some scenes; the credit should probably go to the director.
The other big star of Dabangg is its music. It’s a robust and eclectic album, which redeems much of the film’s weakness.
Watch Dabangg only if you are one of those Bollywood addicts who can’t possibly miss a Salman Khan film. Only for you can the torturous second half not seem like masochism.
Dabangg released in theatres on Friday.