Review: Dabangg 2
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Director: Arbaaz Khan
Chulbul Pandey is back. His return sees him take a leg up, from kasba to shehar, bachelor to husband, but at heart he is the same Robin Hood in khaki vardi, dark shades thrust down back collar, thin moustache adorning upper lip, and the most mobile belt on the planet. In Dabangg, the belt got its own trademark dance step, with Pandeyji and his cohorts jerking it up and down. In the sequel, the belt moves on its own. Look ma, no hands!
I felt like handing out the first half of Dabangg 2 not one but two exclamation marks because it manages what few Bollywood sequels do: keep it same yet make it different enough to hold our interest. The set pieces, having shifted from small UP village to a Kanpur chowki, come and go in nearly the same rhythm but there's a little bit of lift in most of them. Introductory appearance in godown full of goons, waiting for Chulbul (Salman) and his fists and his dialogues. Taaliyaan. Scene with loving father (Khanna), and brother (Arbaaz) and wife (Sinha). Clap, clap. Sequence with bad guy Bachcha bhaiya (Raj) and his equally bad near and dear ones (Dobriyal, Dhir). All right, let's get on with it. Arbaaz, the director, keeps it moving, and that's wise. Because this is not the kind of film which should give you any time to think. Or blink.
And then comes the second half, and things start sliding. The dialoguebaazi loses its grip, and you start to fidget. The row ahead of me, Bhai fans all, have begun talking loudly, keeping one eye on the screen, another on their phones. It doesn't really matter, because even the sporadic surprises are over. One near and dear bad one should go by half time. Gone. Which will lead Big Bad Wolf to give thundering bhaashan, swear vengeance, and get after Chulbul's near and dear ones. Done. Things slowing down? Where's the item girl? "Oye dekh, aa gayi." And then, the climax, just the way it used to be in all the good old masala films in the '70s, and in every recent superhit Madras-cut Bhai movie: our hero, single-handed, empty-handed, up against 20 bristling with kattas, and talwaars and lathis. The Salman Shirt off, now, now, now? Okay, now.
No exclamation mark, because having known exactly how the film will pan out, we have been made to count out the markers, each more predictable than the previous. It's not like the laughs all die down in the second half: we do occasionally smile, but the guffaws are missing. This is what happens when the material gets old. It's called sequilitis. It made item girl Kareena's 'Favicol' not sticky enough, and made me miss the truly jiggy Munni.
But while the going is good, Sallu bhai is right there. Doing his thing. Shaking his belt. Shimmying his waist. Delivering his lines in his inimitable fashion. Keeping us amused, at least to begin with, even when he is doing the unspeakable. Because he is being Salman, whose thing of "don't take me seriously, just have fun" takes us into a zone where all of Dabangg 2 and its settings and characters become comic-book. Someone gets his head in a twist? No worries. That guy will be dusting his clothes off, and collecting his head from the ground in a minute.
The whole film revolves around Chulbul. What else can it do, poor thing? His chulbuli, played by Sinha through the film in the same curvaceous-cum-coquettish manner, the same sideways come-hither glances, stays in the kitchen, occasionally straying to the bedroom, and getting to leave the house only a couple of times. Clearly, if you want to be a 100 crore club mascot, that's all you can aspire to. Arbaaz should have given himself some more time: he can be funny when he wants to. The bad guys are just not bad enough. All they do is spray bullets and spread dullness. Prakash Raj can be genuinely scary; here he just grimaces and shouts, and Dobriyal is laughably miscast.
A sequel to this sequel may be too tempting to pass up for Chulbul and gang. I just hope they don't kill it with same old-ness. "pyaar se nahin, thappad se bhi nahin, boredom se darr lagta hai."