Film Review: Dabangg

Directed by: Abhinav Singh Kashyap

Starring: Salman Khan, Arbaaz Khan, Vinod Khanna, Dimple Kapadia, Anupam Kher, Mahesh Manjrekar, Tinnu Anand, Sonu Sood and introducing Sonakshi Sinha.

All pictures courtesy of the official Dabangg website: http://www.dabanggthefilm.com/

I do love a good festival film – a film that is released on a particular religious occasion (Eid, Diwali, Christmas) – for me, along with the company of family and friends and great fashion and food, there is nothing better then going to the cinema and catching a festive release. You can feel the excitement in the air, the audience are in a good mood, ready to be entertained and rarely for a non premiere/special screening, all the viewers really get involved with the film.

After last week, which saw an emotionally heavy We Are Family, I was in the mood for a masala flick and rushing straight after a tiring day at work to the early evening show (which is fast becoming a habit each week) I was quite excited about the hype around Dabangg. Although I had managed to avoid all the promos and publicity for the film (not intentionally), I did like the soundtrack, with the Munni Badnaam Hui song my current favourite, so even if I didn’t like the film, at least the song would be some consolation. Also, with Salman in my bad books after the dreadful Veer, if this was an awful film, I wasn’t going to hold back.

Dabangg is the story Chulbul Pandey (Khan) a corrupt policeman who has his own brand of justice. Estranged from his stepbrother Makki (Arbaaz) and stepfather Prajapati (Khanna), Chulbul lives for his mother (Kapadia) and falls in love with the beautiful but feisty Rajo (Sinha). But Chulbul’s unorthodox methods find him becoming embroiled in politics and earn  the wrath of Cheddi Singh (Sood) who is determined to take Chulbul down. But he doesn’t count on what a fierce opponent Chulbul is…

Dabangg has a raw and unstoppable energy that powers through the whole film and takes the audience along for the ride. The pace of the film is relentless, steaming along well past the interval, only faltering before gearing up for the climax. Dabangg has only one intention and that is to entertain its audience. Pleasingly, it doesn’t neglect key aspects such as characterisation, dialogue and good music and even the plot which is relatively simple is compelling and has few holes in it. The action sequences are good fun, bordering on the ridiculous at times but again, geared for maximum fun value and making sure the viewer gets caught up in the madness of the moment.

What surprised me was the darker moments of the film, of which there are plenty. Chulbul has a warped view of things and executes his own brand of justice without care. Note how he refers to himself as Robin Hood and gives money that is stolen to others. He shares a warm relationship with his mother which is in sharp contrast to his stepfather and stepbrother whom he loathes with a passion. Then there is his romance of Rajo, which is almost primitive in the way he continually chases her. I also really liked Sonu Sood’s character who feels he is justified in what he does and feels Chulbul is the bad guy, though Cheddi Singh exhibits a brand of pure evil not seen on screen for a while.

Technically, the film has a very distinct look that pays more than a passing tribute to many westerns, action adventure and thrillers of Bollywood and Hollywood. The editing is crisp and there is some crazy camerawork and slick action sequences that really come together well. I liked the costume design which was quietly cool, with Ray Bans getting a plug in nearly every frame. Salman looks brilliant in chinos and fitted shirts, sometimes plain, sometimes printed but all looking very sharp.  I loved Arbaaz’s characters floral shirts as well as Sonakshi’s neutral and very wearable saris with brocade designs, backless tie cholis and mirror work borders. I also thought she looked very natural and elegant as a bride and thought it was good that she had not debuted dripping in labels but instead, looks like the gorgeous girl next door. I also have to praise Mallaika in the item number with some eye popping yellow with parrot green embellishment as well as black with shiny pink and blue. That she looks stunning is a given but she also manages to look classy which is easier said than done.

There is no real weak link in the cast, with all the veterans doing an excellent job. Dimple Kapadia is very believable as the mother and Vinod Khanna suitably paternal as the father. Mahesh Manjrekar, Anupam Kher, Tinnu Anand and Om Puri all play their roles with alarming ease and simplicity but still make an impact in each of their roles. Surprisingly, the one person who is phoning it in with their performance is Sonakshi Sinha, who has little to do but does it quite well. She stands up to Salman and the rest of the cast with confidence and has a certain charm about her which makes one want to see more of her acting abilities. I thought it was an unconventional debut but an assured one and one hopes she follows it up with some interesting roles as Dabangg is the perfect launch pad for her. I really liked Sonu Sood who is menacing and intense and is the perfect bete noire to Salman’s Chulbul. He also sports an enviable six pack and attacks his role with enthusiasm and energy which really works well. I also liked Arbaaz (who is my favourite of the Salman-Sohail-Arbaaz trio) who plays the loser step brother well and has very good chemistry with Salman, Dimple and Vinod. Arbaaz is the perfect supporting actor but at the same time, really makes the role his own with a confidence and strength that also benefits the film.

Now,onto the main man – Salman Khan. Earlier this year, I was so disappointed by Veer which had the makings of a good film but didn’t realise it’s potential. With Dabaang, he has redeemed himself beyond belief. Making the role truly his own, Salman gives a nuanced, energetic performance that pushes the film several notches above average. This truly is a role that demands versatility and a level of skill to make the absurd seem normal and entertaining. Not only that, the whole film relies on Salman to deliver the goods and he doesn’t let the film or the audience down. Note the scene when he comes home to find his mother has died – all done in almost one take, Salman goes from happy to sad and is totally believable as he does so. His dialogue delivery, body language and mannerisms are also note perfect and bring Chulbul to life. Alongside Shah Rukh Khan for My Name Is Khan, Ajay Devgan for Once Upon A Time In Mumbai and Ranbir Kapoor in Raajneeti, we have one of the best male performances of the year and a very triumphant return to form for Salman Khan – Main Aur Mrs Khanna and Veer are forgiven in the face of this performance!

If anything, Dabangg is everything I had hoped Veer would be and the fact that I was in the mood for a masala movie certainly meant I enjoyed the film. I think the only problem with Dabangg is if you are not in the mood to buy into the suspension of belief and the flawed but real logic of the film, you may find the Matrix inspired action sequences and the Hulk tribute (where Salman’s shirt rips off due to his anger) quite silly and unpalatable. I had felt that way about Salman’s Wanted last year and it was only recently when I saw Wanted on a plane journey that I accepted it for what it was.

Dabangg is a fun film and I highly recommend it to everyone – it really has something for everyone. If anything, it serves up old school masala for a modern palate – the full on kitsch is replaced with a knowing wink but with enough essence to pass as the real thing. I read a review for the Hollywood film The Expendables where the reviewer recommended people go and see this film with the rowdiest crowd possible. I would say the same thing about Dabangg – go and see it in a packed cinema or with a large group of friends and enjoy it as a pure popcorn film. Finally, I was desperate to attend to a call of nature at the start of the film but didn’t want to miss the beginning – the fact that I sat through the whole film (including the interval) and was only reminded of my need at the end of film says it all – if it can distract me from that, then it has to be worth a watch!!!

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