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How Chulbul lost his mojo

It was impossible to hate Chulbul Pandey. An oaf of a policeman, negotiating north Indian chauvinism by brandishing his own cheeky machismo and awkwardly undulating hips and rippled biceps, Chulbul won hearts in 2010 in Abhinav Singh Kashyap’s Dabangg. It was mediocrity with some sparkle. The dialogues were novel, a genial and unidimensional satire on the police establishment ran through the kitschy narrative. The protagonist was earthy and boisterous.

Arbaaz Khan directs the sequel, Dabangg 2, without imagination or clarity. The backdrop changes from a mofussil town in Uttar Pradesh to Kanpur. Chulbul, once a child abandoned by his biological father and living with his mother and a stepfamily he loathed, is now a smug family man.

Besides these bare essentials, Arbaaz Khan and the film’s writer, Dilip Shukla, simplify an already linear and thin story to an even weaker revenge drama. The villain, the hero, their cronies—they pretty much drive it, with the help of some vapidly visualized songs. The director does not tell us a story, but merely assembles bits to justify a tame and predictable conclusion. Chulbul Pandey is unleashed with a montage of sequences in which he flails and clobbers hulky men in sloppy slow-motion shots—hoist and thud, hoist and thud, every action sequence apes the one preceding it.

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Dabangg 2 is one of those films that blusters forward to fulfil its obvious purpose—to make money by doing little. It is the job of a hack director.

Although Chulbul Pandey retains the combination of machismo and childish glee (here, too, the man gyrates as enthusiastically as the item girl, in the item song), the insipid writing extracts the mojo out of him. Even for the most devoted fan, Dabangg 2 might be a disappointment.

Chulbul Pandey is now in Kanpur, up against Baccha bhiayya (Prakash Raj), the local moneybags and goon whose kin are kidnapping brides and killing men on the street. Chulbul needs only his over-flexed biceps to take them on. There are inane verbal exchanges and boring fights. The violence has no edge or beauty. Chulbul is in blissful matrimony. His wife Rajjo (Sonakshi Sinha) has tantrums he indulges. He is united with his stepfather, played by Vinod Khanna, and idiotic stepbrother Makkhi (Arbaaz Khan). It’s a big, happy family with a terrace. The father is led to believe Chulbul’s life is in danger. But with a script so unidimensional and lifeless, the climax never really pans out.

Like in the original, the police establishment is trapped in an irrevocable rot, which Chulbul laughs at, and exploits. He is know-it-all, a joker and a cynic, who knows he can kill at will and so is above the system. He controls lawlessness by celebrating it. As one of the songs goes, “Thaana me baithe on duty/bajaaye haaye Pandeyji seeti." Unfortunately, the irreverence does not translate engagingly on screen, and Dabangg 2 does not offer anything more than what we’ve seen over and over again in films about the lone policeman trumping a corrupt establishment—Singham being the last. The two films have exactly the same structure.

Dabangg was one of Salman Khan’s good performances—perhaps the closest he ever came to being an actor. The sequel takes him back to what he has been in films like Bodyguard and Ready. He depends on a few staple expressions and the same slow-motion strides. His performance has no inventiveness. Box-office pundits and fans would say, “Why does he need to be?"

Sinha plays the conventional Hindu wife, the north Indian vermillion-smirched Barbie, with glee. She seems even inspired. The other performances are unremarkable, except a cameo by Deepak Dobriyal as the town’s petty, diminutive, really bad guy.

So Dabangg 2 is a disappointment. It had nothing to keep me engaged.

Dabangg 2 released in theatres on Friday.

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