Salman Khan has become the new Dharmendra.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not blaspheming for effect. When I say ‘the new Dharmendra,’ I don’t mean the fine actor from Satyakam or Chupke Chupke, or even the ridiculously charming hero from Sholay. I mean the guy Dharam turned into later, when he became incorrigibly obsessed with canine blood.
And that isn’t necessarily a bad thing at all, given how fondly we look at even latter-day Dharam Paaji. It’s good to know what to expect. The assembly line star-vehicles in Bollywood today are now nearly impossible to tell apart, and you could splice together a supercut from, say, Singham, Rowdy Rathore and Salman’s latest, and the storytelling narrative would merge seamlessly. It’s evident these movies aren’t about anything but the person starring in them, and all that matters are punches and punchlines, both sadly unmemorable.
Thing is, other actors play ridiculous, dated, larger-than-life characters. Salman, on the other hand, plays himself — or at least a bizarre (or less bizarre?) screen version of himself. This is where the Dharmendra parallel kicks in. Khan’s own persona, massaged by record-shattering blockbusters and his uniquely unapologetic lifestyle, is now larger than any character can be. And that, in itself, makes this film halfway entertaining.
For a fan of the star in question, all that matters is whether the star seems to be having fun. In which case Dabanng 2 is just the ticket, since Salman looks to be having the time of his life. The film itself is better than the original — or, to word it differently, is less unwatchable. And yet it has absolutely nothing new to offer, and nothing to remember, quote or take away from the theatre. The language in the dialogues is quite excellent, though: by which I mean the Hindi used in the UP-based film, and not the actual lines.
Things begin with a Kanpur kidnapping, and since Khan’s Aviator-collaring Chulbul Pandey lives there now, short work is briskly made of the kidnappers. The drill is remarkably unoriginal: a bigger bad guy shows up, Khan toys and teases him till the evil one snaps and hurts actors whose names we know, and thus we have a vendetta. Somewhere in the middle, naturally, Salman’s sister-in-law shows up to boogie, and (thankfully) on an unrelated note, his shirt eventually comes off. End film.
But Salman, thank heavens — unlike any of the characters written for these — is a goof. And that means his Chulbul Pandey giggles, sobs, prank calls his father, has an automatic pelvis-jiggling belt buckle, and plays volleyball with crooks. There are times, of course, where he looks far too old for the part. He’s an embarrassment when dancing, and his torso is so oddly proportioned that his solid colour shirts look like they’re inflated; there is a fair bit of hot air, to be sure. But all things considered, he wears the expressions unashamedly enough to make them work.
His heroine is, like in the first film, Sonakshi Sinha, who spends most of this film pouting. It is an unwise choice for a face that has become astonishingly round; the dupatta framing it fits her like the rim of an egg-cup. She still cannot act, not that it seemed ever a requirement. This film marks the directorial debut of Arbaaz Khan, who will doubtless pat himself on the back for making more crores than the more mediocre original, and why not: his motives appear clear, and as an actor, he’s actually surprisingly likeable as Pandey’s simpleton brother. His wife Malaika appears briefly and looks significantly more captivating than Kareena Kapoor, though the latter has a frustratingly catchy song. Inane, but catchy. Something about glue and bottoms, I believe.
Super actor Deepak Dobriyal, shows up here in an uninteresting role he may have done for the leather jacket he gets to wear, but really, by now after Omkara, he should know better than to mess with the whole carrying-bride-from-altar situation. Never ends well for the guy. Prakash Raj is the main villain, and he’s always good — it’s just that, unfortunately for us, he always gets to play the exact same baddie in Hindi cinema. And he’s never even allowed to lord it over the hero in case we start thinking less of our star. Tsk.
Which means the infallible Chulbul Pandey — after a movie riddled with painfully unsubtle product placement and odd public-service style dialogues made to convince villagers that women can get jobs — climactically gets to beat up an ageing politician. And that’s no battle compared to Khan keeping a straight face through very obviously (and atrociously) computer-generated shirtlessness, the first moments of which just happen to be the film’s funniest.
Oh, and there is one decent line — one referring to Chulbul as Kung Fu Panday — but, quite like the time we spend watching this film, it’s a throwaway.
Rating: 2.5 stars
First published Rediff, December 21, 2012