In the last few years, Salman Khan has headlined films that are, by his standards, relatively high-concept. But he ends the decade as he began it – with an unconscionably silly action film. If Salman fans have despaired of the intellectual demands made of them by Tiger Zinda Hai or Bharat, his latest effort restores order to the Bhaiverse. Dabangg 3 is determinedly, proudly stupid – a sadly representative end for a decade of largely unwatchable Hindi action cinema.
This film would have been unbearable at 90 minutes; two hours and 42 minutes is clearly Prabhudeva’s delayed revenge on critics for trashing his performance in Sapnay. The opening stretch is generic Salman violence, interspersed with jokes about pant-falling, testicle-grabbing and bottom-wiping. Just when you’re wondering how this could possibly keep up for another two hours, primary heavy Bali (Kichcha Sudeepa) turns up and the film heads into a long flashback. Chulbul Pandey – not yet a cop, just a muscly do-gooder – falls in love with Khushi (Saiee Manjrekar). She likes him too, and they plan to marry after she finishes her studies. Then, local strongman Bali, who’s also fallen for Khushi, gets wind of her engagement.
Bali overreacts somewhat, dropping Khushi over the edge of a cliff. Pandey, it has to be said, bounces back quickly from the loss, wooing Khushi’s best friend, Rajjo (Sonakshi Sinha), and transforming into the indestructible wisecracking inspector we know. Writers Dilip Shukla and Aloke Upadhyaya make it clear, though, that his virtues predate the uniform and the stache. When he meets Khushi’s parents to ask for her hand in marriage, he tells them he’ll be giving dahej, not the other way around. How about no one give anyone dowry?
Prabhudeva’s first Hindi film as director, Wanted (2009), starring Khan, was made at a time when the hyper-violent, cartoonish Tamil cinema-influenced action film was still somewhat of a novelty for Bollywood. Over the course of the decade, thanks for Rohit Shetty and his imitators, it became the dominant Hindi action style. You can see all its dubious qualities in Dabangg 3: stop-start action, absurd CGI, quick cutting to hide the star’s actual athletic abilities. Women are there to be saved (Rajjo, trafficking survivors, Rajjo again) or sacrificed so the hero can better himself (Khushi).
There’s one passable joke. Chulbul is laying waste to a garage full of goons when one of them says: “No violence, I’ll do something else for you." With that, he starts to sing Dil Hai Ke Manta Nahi. We hear the original song, from the 1991 Aamir Khan movie, in Kumar Sanu’s voice. It’s a nice memory, from a time when Salman still had a neck, and his whole career in front of him, and looked like he couldn't hurt a fly.