Dabangg 2 contains what is possibly the most disturbing moment in the year’s mainstream cinema, which unfolds when Chulbul Pandey (Salman Khan) is rebuked by his eyelash-batting wife Rajjo (Sonakshi Sinha) about being something of a sex maniac. They’re both in bed, doing their darnedest to convince us that they just did it – and then the camera pulls back to reveal, on the nightstand on his side, a framed photograph of his mother (Dimple Kapadia, who met her maker in the earlier installment). Call it what you will – just plain creepy and wrong, or the director Arbaaz Khan’s astute assessment of the Indian male’s undying umbilical connection – but this at least points to what endeared Dabangg to some of us: the return to the big screen of the great Indian family. The upscale multiplex movies have no use for these ties, but in Dabangg, we met a stern stepfather, a mother torn between love for her first-born and loyalty to her second husband, a heroine determined to remain unmarried because of her father’s alcoholism, and most touchingly, her polio-stricken brother. In one of the film’s best exchanges, Chulbul sees his future brother-in-law’s inward-turned foot and asks, in that characteristically casual style, “Do ghoont nahin pilayi?” The reply: “Baap ko peene se fursat nahin mili.”
Dabangg may have become a blockbuster for no other reason than its hero’s golden streak at the moment – the proverbial phase where he could pick up the phone book and read from it and the audience will turn out in droves – but what made it more than just another masala movie was its director Abhinav Kashyap’s detailing of the world around his hero. Arbaaz Khan tries to achieve a similar balance. He throws in scenes of bonding between father (Vinod Khanna) and son, between husband and wife, and even the special relationship between bhabhi and devar (Arbaaz Khan), an equation that seems to have vanished from our screens after the 1980s. But nothing sticks because these interactions are written half-heartedly, as if they were a necessary evil to be endured between action scenes where every Newtonian law is shattered to smithereens. Dabangg 2 will delight fans of people being swung around in slow motion as well as those who’ve wondered what the world looks like from the inside of a blender.
Others will be frustrated at the lack of a well-motivated villain (Prakash Raj), songs that crop up without rhyme or reason (and none of them memorable), and, most of all, the endless referencing of the earlier film. We see the same dance moves, hear the same dialogues, and watch snatches of the same scenes (and that’s when we’re not watching newer versions of the same scenes, like the godown fight that opens this film; only this time, Chulbul makes his appearance from the back). Arbaaz Khan must be either the laziest filmmaker in Bollywood or the most superstitious. We even have repeats of the marriage-hall melodrama and, at the end, the shirtless showdown between the good guy and the bad guy. There’s a trick to making these sequels, where we want things to be the same and yet want to be surprised. The only surprise in Dabangg 2 may be that Chulbul Pandey, apparently intimidated by the villain, signs up for a life insurance policy. For an instant, the hero feels human, fearing the loss of his life. And then we snap out of it and laugh at their shamelessness, trying to make us believe that this money-minting machine is actually a man.
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