“Dabangg 3.”… Salman Khan stars in yet another sequel that tarnishes the memory of the original

Posted on December 23, 2019


The writing is terrible. It can’t decide whether to devote time to Chulbul Pandey’s “origins story” or focus on the present day, with a new villain.

Spoilers ahead…

The difference between a masala movie and a “mass” movie is a millimetre-thin line in the sand, but one way to gauge these two flavours of popular (populist?) filmmaking is to watch Dabangg and its two sequels. The former, directed by Abhinav Singh Kashyap, was two films for the price of one: a deliciously cheesy, star-centric potboiler, plus a delicately textured relationship drama involving not just the wronged protagonist avenging his misfortunes, but also his 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, the pencil-moustached Chulbul Pandey (Salman Khan) sees his future brother-in-law’s inward-turned foot and asks, in that characteristically casual style, “Do boond nahin pilayi?” The reply: “Baap ko peene se fursat nahin mili.”

You won’t find a single line of this class of dialogue-baazi – at once punchy and poignant – in the sequels. You won’t find the family playing as much of a part in the protagonist’s journey, which is, now, not so much about the character as the actor. Dabangg was about Salman Khan playing Chulbul Pandey with knowing winks to his stardom. The sequels are about Chulbul Pandey being turned into a star vehicle (and nothing but) for Salman Khan: hence, “mass”. Now, this type of film, too, can be hugely entertaining – but then, you need a strong villain with a strong motivation, good songs that are used well, and clever referencing of the earlier films. (You want to be reminded of the old, but you also want the film to be as new as it possibly can.)

But none of this was found in Dabangg 2, and none of it is there in Dabangg 3, either. This installment, directed by Prabhu Deva, has a terrific idea at its centre: Why not make an “origins story” for this super cop! Why not explain how he got his name, and how that signature style statement – sunglasses hung from the back of the shirt collar – came about! Why not show his first relationship (the character is played by Saiee Manjrekar)! Why not show how Rajjo (Sonakshi Sinha) was a part of Chulbul Pandey’s life even before he met her! (In the hands of a good writer, what a great set of masala scenes this could have become!) Why not show who Chulbul stole his amazing “Hum tum mein itne ched karenge…” zinger from!

But the writing is terrible, and it can’t decide whether to devote time to this origins story or focus on the present day, with a new villain in Bali (Kichcha Sudeepa). He gets an intriguing start, reminiscent of serial-killer thrillers like Sigappu Rojakkal / Red Rose. He buries women in his lawns and plants flowers to mark their graves. But this flourish goes nowhere. There’s another interesting thing about Bali – he had a run-in with Chulbul in the earlier timeline, too. But this, too, goes nowhere. You could yank Bali out of that story and the character wouldn’t have been any different. His arc simply says “I am bad and evil and terrible and horrible”. There’s no because

There’s no because anywhere in Dabangg 3, no sense of cause and effect. Lines about women empowerment are dispensed like loose change to a traffic-signal beggar. I preferred the lighter scenes, which at least give the sense of watching a live-action cartoon. The one solid laugh I had was when a henchman begins to dance to the title song of Dil Hai Ke Maanta Nahin. It’s so absurd, it’s some kind of genius. Otherwise, all this film wants to do is refer to (supposedly) totemic moments from the earlier installments. The Munni song (now a Munna song). The shirtless climactic fight.  The marriage-hall scene. (Now, it’s a comedy bit where someone feels someone else’s testicle and thinks it’s a gulab jamun.) The superb “Thappad se dar nahin lagta hai saab…” line that Rajjo utters in the first film. There, these words defined her character. Here, they’re reduced to a joke. That’s what the sequels have done, really. They’ve reduced the Dabangg universe to a joke.

Copyright ©2019 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Posted in: Cinema: Hindi