Many moons ago, I wrote about the great Indian masala movie jisme action hai, drama hai, comedy hai, romance hai or naach gaana bhi. It’s become a rare thing to see out and out masala films that also entertain. It’s true that the audience has become intelligent. But one must not forget, this is still the same Indian audience that has kept masala movie farmoola intact for over 4 decades. In today’s date, making masala films is hardly a safe thing like it used to be. However, with the confidence, the farmoola, the actors and the music, masala movies can still draw audiences, not only rural but also the so-called urban intelligentsia by the millions. This new Salman Khan starrer proves that, and how! Dabangg is not just a film, it is the best escapist cinematic experience of the year.
Welcome to Lalganj, Uttar Pradesh where politicians rule the people, dacoits loot them and it is hard to tell one from the other. In this godless world, we meet Robin Hood a.k.a. Chulbul Pandey (Salman Khan), an unorthodox, corrupt but kind and fearless cop loved by the masses and hated by the plunderers. He has to deal with his ailing but loving mother (Dimple Kapadia) and his difficult stepfather (Vinod Khanna) and stepbrother (Arbaaz Khan). Things take a turn for the worse when Pandeyji is caught in a tussle with local politician Chedi Singh (Sonu Sood). Meanwhile, he falls for the beautiful but stubborn Rajo (Sonakshi Sinha). Bullets fly, bombs explode. Mayhem reigns supreme!
The story is about as old as the Hindi film. However, what makes it work in a big way is the confident direction of Abhishek Singh Kashyap. He understands the limitations and possibilities of a masala movie remarkably well and with some inventive storytelling, a dash of madness and a strong narrative structure to drive the film from its powerful start to its explosive conclusion. He keeps things crisp and does not allow for the proceedings to slow down or get clunky for a single frame. The script writers (Kashyap and Dileep Shukla) pen some of the most memorable lines in recent cinematic history which made me laugh, whistle and clap rather loudly. But I wasn’t the only one in the theatre. Great dialogues are crucial to a masala movie and in that department, Dabangg does not disappoint one bit. The copious use of hinterland Hindi is also a welcome change. The editing is slick and adds considerably to the impact of several scenes. The action sequences are typically over the top but gripping nevertheless. The rustic look is well done thanks to great production design and costume work.
The music of the film is great with three-four terrific songs. “Tere Mast Mast Do Nain” is a beautiful love ballad from Rahat Fateh Ali Khan. The title song reminds me of the title song in Omkara. The additional item number (“Munni Badnaam Hui”) is easily the best item song in many years. It is superbly penned and filmed with Malaika Arora looking sizzling as always. The great thing about the film is that the songs are smartly placed so as to not hinter the narrative. Another ace is the background score with a Mexican style guitar theme recurring throughout that gives a Wild West feel to the entire film.
Although the performances are uniformly superb, the film belongs to one man and one alone: Salman Khan. Giving the performance of a lifetime, Salman manages to find the perfect balance between his action hero antics and his funny side. It has been literally over a decade since I have seen Salman Khan in such fine form. His dialogue delivery, his body language, dance and expressions are all spot on. If there is any actor in Hindi cinema who can still pull off masala, it is only him. Without him, the film would fall apart like a house of cards. It is hard to tell where the character ends and the actor begins. This is because the writers have tailored the character for Salman without, for once, compromising on the entertainment value of the film. Sonu Sood makes an extremely worthy villain and brings out the menacing side of his character as well his cheap, crass sides with equal finesse. Vinod Khanna and Arbaaz Khan are good. Sonakshi Sinha has what it takes to be a movie star and oozes confidence and style. Om Puri and Mahi Gill are unforunately wasted.
Overall, Dabangg is not for the pretentious or the self-proclaimed pseudo movie intelligentsia. For the rest, isse mazedaar, chatpati aur masaledaar film milni mushkil hai. It is escapist cinema at its best. Go treat yourself. Now.