Usually Salman Khan has a tough time doing the one job he’s been hired for: act.
But in Dabangg 3, he’s juggling four responsibilities: he hasn’t just co-produced the film (something he’s done before) but has also written its story and – hold on to your chair – screenplay (along with Prabhu Deva and Aloke Upadhyaya).
The ‘story’ in any Khan film is, of course, a bit of an in-joke – there is no story. Or well, Khan is the story, the screenplay, the first, second, and third acts, the conflict as well as the resolution.
Dabangg 3 opens in a small town in Uttar Pradesh, Tundla. The basic premise of the movie remains the same as its prequels: Chulbul Pandey’s (Khan) swag, a small north Indian town, and a baddie with political connections.
These elements worked wonderfully in Dabangg: a film that deliberately revelled in the theatre of absurd – Chulbul broke mid-way into a dance while bashing the goons – and, at the same time, sweated the small stuff, tossed frequently funny lines, and danced to boyish, merry songs. It was good old Indian masala, shot through meta, self-aware lens: a film that used – as well as commented on – a popular film form.
The latest entrant in the franchise, however, is not an exercise in extension but regurgitation. The film moves from one static set-piece to another – an action scene, a comedic interlude, a song – stalling the story’s momentum and, worse, rehashing old tropes. The first action sequence, for instance, is both over long and unfunny, relying on the same absurdist techniques that feel too familiar.
Two songs – Hud Hud Dabangg and Munna Badnaam Hua – have musical and lyrical echoes from the numbers in the first film. The gags, too, are painfully lame. But more than that, the transitions among them – abrupt and uneven – are even more jarring. Dabangg 3 has absolutely no sense of rhythm, exuding the constant feeling of a mic being randomly passed around drunk narcissistic uncles in an interminable get-together. In the light of recent CAA and NRC dissent, Dabangg 3 is a solid reminder that Khan has always been a protestor: against common sense, coherence, and originality.
Further, even the only original element in the movie – Chulbul’s first love interest, Khushi (debutant Saiee Manjrekar) – is tainted by predictable strains. I’ll let you guess what happens: at the start of the movie, Chulbul is married to Rajjo (Sonakshi Sinha) and, is not difficult to guess, will be so in the climax, too.
But now there’s a new girl and a villain, and Chulbul needs motivation (shocking, I know, that even a Khan film has to be subjected to triviality such as character motivation). Is it too difficult to guess, then, how the girl and the villain are connected? (It’s a completely different matter altogether that Khushi’s subplot and Chulbul’s origin story contradict a major plot point of the first film. Sorry, this is a Khan movie, and I’m getting ahead of myself.)
The villain, played by Sudeep, seems to have graduated magna cum laude in humanities from KSSOMA (Kabir Singh School of Misunderstood Admirers). He murders and buries the dead bodies of women he loves in his front lawn, thereby also giving completely new meaning to Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s Gulon Me Rang Bhare.
Not that Chulbul is a picture of eloquence. He keeps telling Khushi that he’ll do her “dekh rekh” and “rakhwali”, as if she’s a MHADA building, and Chulbul the watchman. Then there’s Dimple Kapadia, playing Chulbul’s mother, who, appearing in consecutive films written by Khan and Christopher Nolan, seems to have conquered the entire cinematic galaxy. Quite (inter)stellar. (Jokes apart, she’s fine in Dabangg 3 and appears in one of the three funny scenes in the movie.)
But what really stands out in the movie is how it is essentially a paean to a cop to be a murderer. At one point in the movie, Rajjo is disturbed by Chulbul’s violence and tells him to stop. Chulbul relents. But then the film gives us a crucial scene, where Chulbul, with his wife, is surrounded by dozens of goons, hurling beer bottles at him. They keep smashing his hulked-up frame, but the Baby Gandhi, remembering the promise made to his wife, takes it all – we’re supposed to feel bad for him – when, finally, she nods. The rest, as they say, is His story. To be sure, popular Hindi cinema has had a long history of cops meting out vigilante justice, but the pretence of humanity in Dabangg 3 is quite cute.
You know how this ends: dust flies, Khan’s shirt comes off, his soon-to-turn-54-year-old chest makes a telepathic connect with the audience, checking, once more, if they’ve left their brains at home. We all squeal, “Yes bhai, we have! Take everything we’ve got: our money, our self-respect, our 159 minutes.”
After all, joy is ephemeral; Bhai is eternal.