Friday, September 24, 2021

Dabangg in Singapore

Dabangg is an illustration of how Bollywood processes the filth, crime and corruption of India’s heartland into celluloid masti, and probably, into a blockbuster.

It is midnight and I am just back after watching Dabangg at Bombay Talkies on Beach Road. Thankfully I had bought my ticket one day in advance, so I did not have to stand in a long queue. The crowd reminded me of Om Shanti Om, and I am sure the movie is going to be as big a hit, if not bigger.

The threatre was houseful and people thoroughly enjoyed the movie: they clapped at Salman Khan’s entry in the film, and were making catcalls and whistling during the songs. I thought the days of Amitabh Bachchan’s magic were back—here was a mass hero in a mass entertainer. 

What took Salman so long to recognize his niche? Comedy and action go together in Hindi films (and of course melodrama too, dollops of it) and if Salman had done films like this after Govinda’s exit from cinema to politics, Akshay Kumar wouldn’t have risen to the heights that he has. This is not to say that Akshay does not have his own goofy charisma.

Coming back to the movie, what people enjoyed above all were the dialogues. The dialogues work and even at serious moments they tickle you. However, I would have snipped off the fart jokes as they cheapen the character. Similarly, dancing on a mobile phone ring while fighting the goons looked like a bad idea to me. 

Some critics, including Anupama Chopra, have said that the film hardly has a plot. That is a fair complaint but I guess the filmmakers were not bothered about plot. This is a character-driven film, and if people watch it (and there would be a sequel too, it seems), they would watch it for Chulbul Pandey (Salman). The film is out and out on Salman’s beefy shoulders and he has delivered it very well. There are a few moments where he seems a bit out of character but that does not make much of a difference. I am tempted to add one more thing: Salman, with his cockiness, moustache and Ray Bans, reminds me of Marcello Mastroianni (as Ferdinando Cefalù) in Divorce—Italian Style.

Sonakshi Sinha has made an impressive debut and she conveys a lot through her eyes and expressions. Mahie Gill has been underutilized and she remains a sidekick, not a second lead. Arbaz has tried his best—I could sense his sincerity in his role. But the problem is that his part has not been written well. His characterization is uneven (he can fight but he is dimwitted; he is strong but he cowers in front of his step-brother; he has a moral sense but he allows himself to be manipulated). Where is the depth in his character? He could have been like John Malkovich (as Lennie Small)in Of Mice and Men, but of course not that demented (I’m just giving you an idea). Malaika’s item number is so good it seems to come and go in a jiffy. So sad!

Sonu Sood is a good actor and he is in his Yuva avatar. But again his character falls short of the villainy that is required of him to match Salman’s over the top herogiri. His character is not good enough a counterfoil to Salman’s—if that was done, the film’s level would have risen. 

As for the plot, who cares about it in a masala movie? The public was lapping up Salman. I heard people clap when his body bulges in anger a la Hulk and his shirt flies off his body. The action is pure filmy, South India style. Some (girls/women) might find it a bit too much.

Dabangg is not Kaminey or Omkara but it could have been. For that layered telling you need a Vishal Bhardwaj and a touch of expertise from Hollywood’s script gurus. Dabang is pure UP-bred and has no intellectual pretensions about it. It is shamelessly, and I would say, even boldly, a single screen film. That’s why it works even with a shoddy plot.

A pat on the back of debutant director Abhinav Kashyap who has done a great job in his very first film (If you disagree, try to direct a film and you will know what I mean). The kind of desi stylization that he brings to this small-town movie (Bunti Aur Bubbly was also great fun) is original. Now that is something in Bollywood, isn’t it?

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