You’ve got to ask yourself this: when was the last time you knew the lead character’s name weeks before release? Besides of course assuming Amitabh Bachchan would be called Vijay, there was a time when big films – before the multiplex invasion – had a manic thrill running up to opening Friday. Dabangg – specifically Chulbul ‘Robin Hood’ Pandey – did manage to recreate that frenzy with its promos depicting Salman Khan having a ridiculously good time on screen.
But somewhere along the way with the pandering involved in letting Salman have a good time, the makers forgot that the audiences would also like to see (maybe I’m wrong here) a little something more than the actor having a ball. Take the Khan out of the film and you’re left with the vestiges of a has-been, a wafer-thin story that starts with the aplomb of a raging rhinoceros but peters out like a sheepish shrew.
The film, directed by Abhinav Kashyap, is fraught with prominent evidence of inexperience at the helm. If you take out the work of the action director and the choreographer you’re staring at emotional scenes with quirky background scores that has audience guffawing, the complete lack of any establishing shots or transitions, poorly conceived mise-en-scenes, and tacky postproduction work where even basic color grading is inconsistent.
The whole idea of Robin Hood is lost as there is hardly any focus on ‘robbing the rich and giving it to the poor’, save for a couple of stray, forced instances. The analogy is fraud. The character of Chulbul Pandey is well-defined but it is in its own universe. Even the effect of gravity is optional for him. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about any of the others. They’re on planet earth and etched in reality. Quite random.
There is absolutely no indication of a plot in the first half. It’s basically an action-song-dance-funny one-liners routine. Goons are beaten up. Mother cries. Father (step) doesn’t talk to kid. Chulbul likes and wins over girl. Some politicians who hang at akhadas show up. And suddenly the popcorn-laden guys appear. Thank goodness they didn’t end opening credits at interval.
The opening action sequence is the highlight of the film. It is pulsing with energy, well-shot, and quite innovative at times. Unfortunately, none of the other fights hold a candle to this one. A couple of songs – Malaika’s item and the title track – are interesting: hummable and watchable. Others, boring. Suffice to say, all the promos only borrowed from these three elements.
The second half scrambles to put a semblance of a story together, but the job is half-hearted. The writers are so obviously trying to dumb it down and make it fun for the lowest common denominator audience that it’s shocking at times. Characters are introduced, used for effect, and forgotten (take Rajo’s brother for instance) and contradictions and loopholes abound. What happened to the (ridiculous hamming 2D) Mahesh Manjrekar character? Why did Sonu Sood ask the goon to lay low until further notice but he comes out guns blazing not two minutes later (the station action scene)? Anyway, this is one of those films where you’re’supposed to leave your brains behind’. Too bad for the makers, its actually ensconced in our skulls and we don’t have a choice.
Sonakshi Sinha’s two-and-a-half lines and 12 reaction shots are handled with repose and she’s got a fresh look about her. Would love to see her in more substantial roles. The effervescent Mahie Gill is totally wasted on being Arbaaz ‘non-performance’ Khan’s girl. Om Puri is like a radioactive piece of uranium with an infinite half-life: he is the half the man in every subsequent film he does. Now he has the likes of Sonu Sood addressing him as if an extra. Sood in turn tries his earnest best to make something of his role.
Right, so time to ignore all of the above.
The film is eminently watchable because of Salman’s Chulbul Pandey act. He is consistent, amusing, captivating, cool, and will possibly even make Ray-Ban’s product placement initiative into the fashion/style highlight of 2010. He delivers all that it will take to justify your ticket money. Just don’t buy it in black.
Hindi, Action, Drama, Color