There was a time when Hindi movies were made for men—- working class men, who would settle down in the darkness of the hall with their mates, smelling of sweat and grime. Handkerchiefs around neck and lungis drawn up mid-thigh, they would come to dance, sing, throw chawannis at the screen and whistle at the women on the screen. They couldn’t care less for story arcs and characterization as long as skulls were being cracked, dialogs were being delivered, and women were being drenched. Then things changed. Multiplexes revolutionized the business of movie distribution and audience targeting. The Johar-Chopra-Shahrukh Khan triumvirate cut off the nation’s throbbing testicles and replaced them with a pair of heart-shaped red balloons. Just as Diet Coke pushed out the Rs 1 colored water sold in plastic seen-through packs (also called jaundice test-tubes since there was a good chance of contacting the disease if you let that water cross your lips),old-time masala “movies for men”, non-stylized and formulaic, looked down upon as a “down-market”, were steadily slowly shunted to the low end of the spectrum, consigned to playing in B and C single-screens in the backwaters.
Last year’s bone-cracking “Wanted”, starring Bollywood’s undisputed Neanderthal and the new-generation Mithun Chakraborty, resurrected the commercial viability of old masala action. It was only going to be a matter of time when there would try to replicate its success. Enter “Dabangg”, a stunning two-plus hours packed with every cliche of the action thriller, legendary dialogbaazi of the kind you repeat years later (Cheddi Singh, hum tume itne ched karenge ki confuse ho jaoge—- ki saas kaha se le aur pade kaha se) and enough moments to make even the most jaded get off from the seat and do a seat-i.
There are two ways to appreciate Dabangg—-one as an out-and-out masala thriller, with the old-as-hills formula of estranged family, bonds of blood and bloody revenge, helmed by a crowd-puller who is one of the few remaining in Bollywood who has the physical presence to be a larger-than-life action hero (And no Aaamir Khan can put on as many packs on his midrib and as much as lean muscle on his arms but he will never even have a fraction of the front-stall appeal that Salman has). The other way to look at it is as a clever, almost subversive spoof of the action masala genre and here too the movie stands, to a large extent on, Salman’s excellent comic timing and his ability to not take himself seriously.
The excellent way Abhinav Kashyap, brother of Anurag Kashyap, lays out the opening fight set-piece sets the mood for the entire movie. Inside a godown teeming with villains, Chulbul Pandey (Salman Khan) bursts in through the door. Caught in the hell-fire of his entry, a baddie lies on the ground, just perfectly in the line of Chulbul Pandey’s foot, which crushes the outstretched digits immediately like a piece of bubblewrap. After delivering a thundering dialog, Chulbul. using a hose-pipe like a gigantic …emm….snake that flies out between his legs, lays to waste the marauding men. In the middle of this carnage, one of the villain’s cellphone starts ringing a ringtone “Jalwa” from “Wanted”. Chulbul Pandey stops fighting and starts dancing, still throwing punches at the advancing enemies and its that dance, exaggerated in its hilarious pelvicness, that tells you that the story to follow is to not be taken seriously.
This is where “Dabanng” is a much superior movie than “Wanted”. The latter having being brought to you by Prabhudeva-Bonny Kapoor had, not unsurprisingly, none of the clever nudge-nudge wink wink that Abhinav Singh Kashyap bring here through situations (An injured policeman tells Chulbul that he cannot use his left hand and Chulbul replies, in a deadpan way, that he has asked the government to install a “pichkari” for his “pakhana”), camera angles and song picturizations (As an aside, Munni Badnaam Hui Darling Tere Liye is not just strongly “influenced” by Dehaati comic-superstar Rampat Harami-Rani Bala classic Launda Badnaam Huya Naseeban Tere Liye but also by the song Launda Badnaam Hua Laundiya Tere Liye from Rock Dancer [Video] that predates the Rampat Harami song—-which makes me think there is a common source for both).
All this makes Dabangg a full-fledged, go-for-broke entertainer, to use a favorite line from Bollywood’s greatest reviewer of all time( Taran Adarsh) appealing to the classes and masses. And how many Hindi movies can you say that about nowadays?
A lot of people have used the word “brain-less” to describe Dabangg.
Dabangg, once you can get past its cleverly constructed mindlessness, has a lot of brain (and I am not just referring to the villiains’ splattered dura mater) in it.
And, most surprisingly, even some heart.