Friday, September 10, 2010



Okay, first a few thoughts: The ecstasy in certain quarters over Dabangg seems to prove that no matter how much we may try to impress the West with sophisticated films set amidst the diaspora, or realistic films about starving farmers, we actually just want updates of the old B-Cinema, where the hero is macho and beats up 20 guys but worships his mother, the heroine is suitably feminine, the sex appeal is provided by the ‘item’ girl, and the villain exists only to get thrashed by the hero in the end. The only difference is that in the old days the hero was high-minded and noble; now in keeping with Salman Khan’s Bad Boy image, he is a crude bloke, with no scruples.

But even this small town cop has been played by Amitabh Bachchan in a few films, by Mithun Chakraborthy in hundreds, later by Sunny Deol, Suneil Shetty and Akshay Kumar, and too many Southern films to count. But those films have been forgotten, so the action genre revived in Bollywood by Wanted and Ghajini has been taken forward with Dabangg by Abhinav Singh Kashyap, who must have grown up on Mithun actioners. So while some of use may groan at seeing the scene of the hero’s entry by kicking the door down, because it has been done so often, today’s teen or young tapori will be thrilled with it. Add to that some CGI special effects and the new packaging is complete.

Then, over the last few months, the supposedly media-hating Salman Khan has pulled out all stops to promote the film—from dancing on reality shows to appearing in his cop uniform on TV soaps, to allowing controversies about his personal life to flourish. With Dabangg socking potential audiences in the face every few minutes, they become duty-bound to see it, maybe even like it for fear of being thought as cranks or snobs. That is enough for the film to get a huge opening, to be declared a blockbuster, and put Salman Khan on a higher pedestal.

That said, what Kashyap has really contributed to the otherwise derivative film (from old Bolly to Jason Stratham stunt scenes) is root it in a northern milieu and culture, rather than some hybrid neverland where so many of our mainstream films are located. The dialogue has sparks and Salman plays the bad-English-speaking cop (which will thrill the lower stalls in single screens cinemas), who swaggers about with his sunglasses dangling at the back, and even flirts with a pretty potter (Sonakshi Sinha) with a hint of aggression.

Tragic to see Vinod Khanna and Dimple Kapadia—once the best-looking stars in Bollywood—now whiten their hair, stoop their backs and play parents to a 40-plus star trying to pass off as a young man. These roles used to be played at one time by AK Hangal and Nirupa Roy—and it is painful to watch these two.

Azbaaz Khan plays Salman—or Chulbul Pandey’s—half-brother Makhhi, who goes over to the side of the villain Chhedi Singh (Sonu Sood) only to realize that he was being used. There’s not much of a plot to begin with, characters like the political leader (Anupam Kher) and the heroine’s drunk father (Mahesh Manjrekar) and crippled brother come and go with no ostensible purpose; so the audience sits back and waits for the action scenes, during which the hero stops to wiggle his hips to a cell phone tune, before proceeding to bash the villain’s henchmen. He even drops by to wiggle some more with the ‘item’ girl (Malaika Arora) in the Munni badnaam song.

Because he doesn’t take off his shirt throughout the film, in the end it is ripped off his back by an act of God, so Salman and Sonu Sood have a six-pack-displaying fist fight.

Is Dabangg a good film? Not by a long shot. Is it an enjoyable film? Maybe. But there’s no arguing with the box-office and a star’s fan following. At least it is better than Tere Naam and Wanted, and even if your don’t take anything away from it, at least words like dabangg and jhunjhaar were brought out of cold storage… and it has the weirdest line in a song “main zandu balm hui, darrrling tere liye.” Who can beat that!


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