Directed by Abhinav Kashyap, Dabangg finally gave 'Bhai fans' something to cheer about.
"Abhi to sab ko nehlaya hai, ab sab ko dhounga." With that famous punchline, Dabangg's Chulbul 'Robin Hood' Pandey delivers fatal blows to adversaries in a scene that could have been written by Salim-Javed. Indeed, the slick action sequence introducing Salman Khan plays out like a self-conscious parody of Deewaar's classic "Tumlog mujhe dhoondh rahe ho aur main tumhara yahan intezar kar raha hoon" scene with an acerbic Amitabh Bachchan (as Vijay) locking up the warehouse before thrashing the goons to pulp. Of course, Khan is no Bachchan and Dabangg writers Dilip Shukla and Abhinav Kashyap are no Salim-Javed. Yet, nine years ago, when Dabangg first released it quickly became one of the highest-grossing blockbusters and a critical success, leading to a Salman Khan resurgence.
Before Dabangg (2010), the beefed-up megastar had a middling hit in Wanted. The same Southern action aesthetics that informed Wanted is reflected in Chulbul's antics, too. Directed by Abhinav Kashyap, better known as Anurag Kashyap's brother, Dabangg finally gave 'Bhai fans' something to cheer about. They settled back, as Chulbul Pandey — an Aviator slung on the backside of his collar to enable him to see all that is happening behind him — sent the evil men packing. Not that the film by itself was any great (it lacks the Salim-Javed brio), but Khan's bar has been usually so low, that in a season of Ready, Bodyguard, God Tussi Great Ho and Yuvvraaj, Dabangg was lapped up by audiences and critics as a scintillating new benchmark for Bhai-dom.
Dabangg ushered in Salman Khan's Rajinification, a cultish transformation that saw him possibly mimicking the Rajinikanth-style of unapologetic mass entertainment.
Cooked in '70s masala fare
As many critics have pointed out, Chulbul Pandey's role was tailor-made for the muscular star. If Khan had ever wanted an out-and-out masala outing with adoring audiences whistling along and throwing coins at his on-screen entry this was it. Dabangg ushered in Khan's Rajinification, a cultish transformation that saw him possibly mimicking the Rajinikanth-style of unapologetic mass entertainment and dizzying first-day-first-show madness that we thought went out of fashion in the multiplex era. Above all, Dabangg is a homage to the 1970s kitsch, a heady time when Salim-Javed, Manmohan Desai, Prakash Mehra, Yash Chopra and Kader Khan ruled the roost.
As director Kashyap confirmed in one interview, "I'm a big fan of the cinema of the 1970s when characters used to be bigger than the films. During that time, even after the film had gone, people still used to remember the characters. I've tried that in this film." The link to the '70s is further consolidated by Vinod Khanna, the dashing ageing star (he died in 2017) who plays Chulbul's adversarial step-father. The film contains classic 70s' themes — two brothers, not a lot of love lost between them, cardboard villain, vintage music, an ear for one-liners and last but not the least, the long-suffering mother figure. She is essayed by Dimple Kapadia, and it's refreshing to see the veteran thespian because we don't see her on the screen all that often these days. The beloved Bobby is all-grey but has lost none of her bite. Ask any fan and they will attest that the Dimple Kapadia-Vinod Khanna pairing is one of the film's supreme achievements.
Essentially a revenge drama, the film opens in a typical 'two brothers growing up' mode. One is the brawny + brainy Chulbul Pandey and the other is Makkhi (Arbaaz Khan). Chulbul's mother dotes on him but also reminds him to take care of the weaker Makkhi. Cut to 21 years later (quite a leap of logic given that it tries to pass off a 50-something Salman Khan as a 30-something mean machine): Chulbul is a corrupt cop who floats above the law. Chulbul has a swag that Tamil-Telugu potboilers have perfected over the years. No wonder, it is Prabhudheva who is brought in from the South to helm Dabangg 3, much like Wanted before.
Chulbul's square-off with the Machiavellian Chedi Singh (Sonu Sood), a mass youth leader and full-time crook with eye on the top job leads to a clash for revenge, as it is Chedi who had choked Chulbul's mother (Dimple Kapadia) to death. Chedi also uses Makkhi as a scapegoat to get his political boss Dayal Babu (Anupam Kher) bumped off. "Hum tum mein itne ched karenge," Chulbul warns Chedi in what has since become a popular dialogue, "ki confuse ho jaoge ke saans kahan se le aur paade kahan se." But the film's best line goes to Rajjo, a debut-making Sonakshi Sinha. It's love at first sight for a smitten Chulbul, but she isn't swayed: "Thappad se darr nahin lagta sahab, pyaar se lagta hai." That one stray comeback aside, it would do well to remember that Dabangg is a Salman-vehicle and Shatru's daughter is nothing more than a beautiful distraction. Khamosh!
Dabangg belongs to Salman, who's lazily brattish and sneers and scoffs. "Kamaal karte ho, Pandeyji," is a refrain that runs throughout to define his chequered relationship with Pandey Senior (Vinod Khanna). From the looks of it, Salman is a tough nut but peer inside the uniform and he's a softie who craves for a family life. It appears that Salman uses the same facial muscles for romance as for action and probably that's what fans find 'cute.' The goofiness sometimes makes you feel if he has come in straight from the Hello Brother and Partner set. Why else would Chulbul break into a jig in a high-powered fight sequence and go all loopy in "Munni badnaam hui"? Meanwhile, good news for those waiting for the 'shirtless Sallu' moment: it happens in the action-packed finale, making fans giddy. Wearing a pencil-thin moustache and a few new expressions hitherto hidden from public, Khan makes the most of this juicy role. Before Dabangg, admittedly, watching a Salman starrer was trying for many sane viewers. But Dabangg came as a welcome breath of fresh air...
...which is why it is hard to imagine today that Salman was never the original choice for the flamboyant Chulbul Pandey. In fact, Arbaaz Khan recently revealed that director Abhinav Kashyap had Randeep Hooda and Irrfan Khan in mind instead. For most critics used to Salman's sleepwalking performances, Chulbul was a revelation. Recommending the movie in her review, Anupama Chopra gushed, "See the film for the sheer pleasure of watching Salman Khan in top form." She ended by saying, "I would be happy to see more of Chulbul Pandey."
Director Abhinav Kashyap with Salman Khan on the sets of Dabangg. (Photo: Express Archives)
Her wish was granted, as Dabangg 2 released in 2012 but to mostly tepid reviews. It's quite possible that the sequel was marred because of creative confusion in the wake of Abhinav Kashyap's fall-out with Salman and Arbaaz Khan. While Abhinav had said that if he had continued to write Dabangg franchise, it would have become a never-ending TV serial, the Khan Bros were evidently keen on cashing in on the Dabangg-mania. For Abhinav, the script didn't turn out well, as after opting out of Dabangg 2 his last big hope was Besharam. But the Ranbir Kapoor comedy tanked. Unhappy with the state of affairs, Anurag Kashyap, too, jumped onto the bandwagon. Taking a dig at the Khans, the visibly hurt Dev.D maker had drunk-Tweeted, "Salman Khan thinks he made my brother's life.. Hope he can do the same for his brother Arbaaz with Dabangg 2." A dash of apology followed, but the damage had been done.
As Dabangg 3 hits theaters tomorrow, it's tempting to wonder how the two sequels would have turned out if Abhinav Kashyap, the film's original brain, had stayed on. Tongue strictly in cheek, all you can tell Salman Khan is, "Kamal karte ho, Pandeyji."