Is it possible that a movie so utterly without redemptive value, so completely, pointlessly uncalled for, can also be, you know, kinda fun? Hell yes. Say hello to a monotonously mindless but colorful caper, a banally boisterous, jolting junk that strangely is filling in its sneering, rambunctious spirit. 'Dabangg' is totally ridiculous, unbelievable, exhausting, and pretty much just plain stupid, but that's what makes it watchable. And like so much Salman Khan-branded contemporary entertainment, it is a frenzied distraction that means nothing.
Writer-director Abhinav Kashyap sneers at any kind of rules, decorum or morality. Anything goes, as long as it's within the realm of exploitation-level "B" moviemaking. He's made a product that's so tasteless, trashy and totally over the top, that it amounts to one of the year's most inventive movies. Kashyap really seems to be enamored with the genre he's satirizing. embedding these gags in to the script instead of just tossing them at us waiting for us to laugh. He believes nothing exceeds like excess. And if that's not enough 'Dabangg' even over-delivers, permanently deflowering and deforming the mind of anyone lucky enough to be in the audience. The question isn't whether Salman Khan as Chulbul Pandey knows how to spice things up. The question is whether or not you're willing to go with him on yet another highly implausible, ludicrous, action-packed adrenaline-pumped ride. Salman, who's tailor-made for this kind of thing, nevertheless spends too much time doing his cool-menace-wiseass thing to communicate the sort of urgency the (semblance of a) plot demands. Its 2+ hours of cinematic junk food paradise. Waking up in the aftermath of a meth-lab explosion might be less disorienting than watching this.
And now the bad news. 'Dabangg' is just a byproduct of Sallu's self-promotion, rendering the film itself, in essence, beside the point. There is potential all over this film, but every scene post interval is overwrought with unfunny caricatures and tired jokes. We've seen every gimmick and sight gag before, in better, funnier Salman Khan movies. The second half is pretty much a bad-taste sinkhole, with Sallu competing against Arbaaz and Sonu Sood to see if he can be more grating. Right after the chaos of 'Munni Badnaam Hui', Kashyap seems to have no idea whether this is an action movie, a comedy, a kid's movie or perhaps a bizarre experiment in Chinese torture. Here we have Sallu as Chulbul Pandey, a moustached, corrupt policewale bhaiyya who in turn is also a modern day Bollywoodised Robin Hood with a bone to pick with the sleazy local politician (Sonu Sood). Thrown in is a bit of a melancholy back-story on Pandey's character, just so the plot hides the spasms and pretends to move - there's a dead mother (Dimple, in excellent form) and a hateful step father (Vinod Khanna, sleepwalking) and an annoying step brother (furniture, aka Arbaaz Khan), compounded by gaaon ki gori Rajjo (Sonakshi, passable) and the standard goons and extras who're paid to merely serve as Sallu's punching bags. In the final 45 minutes Kashyap mistakes shock and boorishness for satire, and crudity for cleverness as he desperately, hopelessly catalogues of the ills of India, and 'Dabanng' ends up rejoicing in what it believes it is sending up.
'Dabangg' is one of the loudest, most obnoxious (not to mention sexist) movies of the year, but damned if it doesn’t keep an audience in high gear. I guess you could call it a "satire," but it doesn't particularly care to take the time or energy to spin the satire in any meaningful way. The film really is the super-concentrated silt at the bottom of a chemistry experiment that has no possible purpose to it but to deliver whatever limited jolt of which it's capable. Recommended for Sallu fans and those who love to hurl torn tickets in the air and whistle at bare, gyrating hips and flat abs on the big screen.
First published on india.com on Sep 10, 2010