Dabangg is a thorough entertainer, and unflinching at that, the kind audiences lapped up in umpteen films in the 1970s and 1980s.
Robert Rodriguez, maker of the cult western Desperado starring Antonio Banderas, would have been proud of Dabangg. So would Manmohan Desai.
Debutant director-writer Abhinav Kashyap has combined elements from the works of the two filmmakers — a mix of spaghetti and khichdi if you may — and served up a meal that is palatable and scrumptious at the same time.
There is Salman Banderas Bachchan Khan for the main course. Khan plays Chulbul aka Robinhood Pandey, a cop in Lalganj, UP, who gives criminals hell but ensures he stands to personally gain from it. In a stunningly choreographed opening sequence, he beats up a gang of bank robbers to pulp and keeps the loot for himself. It’s a lawless land, as the promos warned you. And Chulbul makes the most of it.
He lives with his stepfather, Prajapati [Khanna] and mother [Kapadia] and has a sautela bhai Makkhi [Arbaaz], who is dumb as a dodo. Chulbul feels that Prajapati has always treated him badly and so hates both him and Makkhi.
Arbaaz — also the film’s producer — is aptly cast as Chulbul’s dimwitted young stepbrother, a kind of lovable buffoon.
Also well cast is Sonu Sood as local politician Chhedi Singh. Chhedi has a bone to pick with Chulbul and uses the latter’s animosity against his family members as a ploy to get even with him.
Sood, after a long time, brings to screen a goonda that people would love to hate. In one scene, he asks his cronies who the biggest villain in the city is. One of them promptly says it’s Chhedi himself, at which he smashes the guy’s head with a coconut. “Hum bachpan se hero banna chahte hain. Aur yeh hamein villain bana raha hai [I have wanted to be a hero since I was a kid, but this guy says I’m a villain]”.
Chhedi has a personal photographer who follows him everywhere and goes “Bhaiyyaji, photu” every now and then. You can’t help but chuckle.
Finishing the circle is village belle Rajjo [Sinha]. Just like the villain, you see a gaon ki chhori in a Hindi film after ages. Sinha makes a decent debut, standing up to her superstar co-star in quite a few scenes. “Pyaar se dar lagta hai babu, thappad se nahi,” she tells Chulbul, who, now smitten, breaks into a jig, singing ‘Tere Mast Mast Do Nain’. The film has one song too many, but they are all well-tuned [Sajid-Wajid] and smartly picturised. Munni Badnaam Hui, of course, is the highlight.
Malaika Arora Khan, as Munni, gyrates hypnotically to beats by guest composer Lalit Pandit as Chhedi tries to serenade her. That’s till Chulbul comes on the scene. If you’re watching the film in a single screen, you will probably be deafened by the applause that follows, but make sure you hear Chulbul’s dialogues in the scene after. They are a highlight.
The wordplay in the film, in fact, will be loved by the masses. The more discrete audience may turn its nose up, but correctness can be damned. Dabangg is a thorough entertainer, and unflinching at that, the kind audiences lapped up in umpteen films in the 1970s and 1980s.
Remember Amar Akbar Anthony? You may smirk at three brothers, separated as children, all giving blood to their blind mother at the same time without any of them knowing the other’s identity. But you enjoyed it nonetheless. Dabangg falls in a similar category.
In spite of the film's ‘dated’ appeal, first-timer Kashyap gives Dabangg a novel treatment, which lends it zing. He plays to the gallery brazenly, but ensures that the film is held together by a strong premise — that of a dysfunctional family that comes together in crisis — co-written by Dilip Shukla. He has shot the action scenes with aplomb [with help from stunt director Vijayan], kept the pace fast, and extracted great performances.
Many may find Dabangg formulaic and over-the-top — Salman Khan’s shirt-ripping in the climax might leave you open-mouthed — but it does its job. If you had to describe the film in a single line, you could quote Dharmendra’s character Veeru from the classic Sholay [incidentally co-written by Salman and Arbaaz’s father, Salim Khan]: iss kahaani main drama hai, action hai, comedy hai, tragedy hai. Only now, you would have to end the dialogue with — ‘aur issme Salman Khan hai.’
As Chulbul Pandey, Khan is in his element. Kashyap now enjoys an envious position among all of the actor’s directors over two decades for giving him a character that does optimum justice to his persona, ability and star power. And Khan does a swell job of it, too. If you’re a fan, repeated viewings are assured.
In a scene where he describes his qualities, Chulbul says he has in him a kind of ‘pagalpan’ [madness]. You can say the same about Dabangg. It’s slightly mad, and it’s terribly entertaining.