Thoughts after Dabangg 2

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ImageDon’t overthink it I was advised as we walked into the cinema hall. I apologize to my well-meaning friend. It is difficult to switch my brain off. However, Dabangg 2 had nothing to fear from my thinking mind. To be honest, it benefitted from me keeping those gray cells ticking. I managed to enjoy its candy-floss fizz and also found aspects to mull over.

Let’s begin with Salman (always a good place to start). Salman is what you want to believe. He is a media puzzle. Is he, isn’t he, will he, was he, did he, in some interviews Salman is sensitive, kind, soft-spoken, in others he’s disconnected, arrogant, bizarre. Who is the real Salman? He is the original blogging icon – you see glimpses of him in his posts, a personal aspect in a picture here or there and just when you think you know him he slips away. He makes his blog private, then he opens it up with changes, he reorganizes his thoughts. I can imagine him sitting on a plump white couch, sipping orange juice and secretly gloating over the aura he’s created as servants carry platefuls of biryani to serve the media persons waiting outside whom he will not meet. I sincerely believe no one will ever get to know the real Salman. He will live and perish in fragments of speculation.

In that light where does Dabangg 2 fit in? Apoorva who went with me to see this film commented that this is Salman doing what he wants to do and they have made a film around that.

Kehte hain karte hain jo marzi

Sunte nahi hai kisi ki arzi

Is Chulbul – Salman? They do share the elusive and irreverent characteristics. They are playful and unapologetic. There is that toast to nonsensical entertainment. The answer would be yes but then sitting on the statement – we don’t know the real Salman let us assume the plausibility this is the caricature of Salman – maybe what Salman wants to be but does not quite become. Chulbul Pandey, Kung Fu Pandey, Robin Hood Pandey – a cheeky cop, the controller of law who can and has the ability to twist the system to suit what he thinks is the best solution for everyone. He pays homage to Rajnikanth, gyrates to Fevicol se and is nonchalant about political correctness. Two boys (Salman and Arbaaz), brothers living out their fantasies on the big screen – from building fortress with pillows in the living room to taking this out for the world to enjoy.

Dabangg 2 is wrong at so many levels. The cop who lives by his own laws, humors his responsibilities. Pockets money when the chance permits, toys with his wife, lacks emotional depth, skims and skids into bizarre action sequences, badly plugs products, and yet this is the guilty pleasure that makes even the intellectually aware clap their hands in childlike pleasure. It’s baffling why it clicks but it does. It is reminiscent of old notions of the hero – in a dark theater in between song and dance, the man who stood his ground, meant well, he managed to make a success out of his life and the audience rejoiced with him, felt included in his happiness, wanted to cook him hot chappatis and feed him. Like Westerns. Dabangg 2 feeds into that – the background score highlights it – you expect dusty roads, taverns, swash buckling men, and justice meted out immediately. Hindi cinema had its share of iconic characters; Mogambo, Dr. Dang, Vijay Dinanath Chauhan, Munnabhai – Chulbul has arrived. He will be remembered for his style – aviators slung at the back of his neck, his breaking out into dance, and strange dialogues that glorify violence along with macho full-blooded jawan-mardness.

But what about women – is it okay to “getaway” with:

Main toh tandoori murgh hoon yaar

Gatakle saiyan yaar alcohol se

This is where the discussion becomes murky. This is a male-centric film. The role of Sonakshi, Mahie, Kareena, Malaika – in whatever they bring to the script is marginal, they aren’t players. The movie concentrates on masculinity and male relationships. On an economic front – lines such as the above – are always peddled as crowd pullers and most of us take it in with a pinch of salt. There is a dichotomy that exists here. When is it okay and when is not okay – a resounding slap is what you will probably get if you try this line in real life. So – there. Suspension of the brain, in the hall, on the big screen, the hero grooves his pelvis, slams his hands together, the girl bites her lower life, they rub their palms and sing. Damn entertaining. In real life – don’t try. Maybe at your cousin’s wedding, at your own risk to entertain relatives in the mehendi, is that how it works? I would not know.   We understand this about cinema, just the way we know something James Bond can do – and we can’t. If one were to get into the feminist debate with this angle. Perhaps a look into how cinema works with representation of women would be fair, crucifying one film, picking at it for its commercial-flavor including this would then make the debate itself diluted.

I wish Makhi had not mended his ways. He’s such a lovable buffoon. If he starts becoming another angelic do-gooder the movie series will lose one of its vital ha-ha points. The Asma Begum angle was adorable. It ought to be have been explored further – giving Vinod Khanna some meat to sink his teeth into. I tend to like the family dynamics much more than the slow-mo action sequences. I am not the 72% majority and I see where the film makers were heading with this. Chulbul is also an action hero and Salman has to expose his body – an investment. Saving the best for the last – an incredibly lust-worthy climatic fight – balancing all the female itemization with an ode to the male form, two oiled muscular men fighting with bodies exposed to the camera, capturing the flexing of each muscle. Poof!

The movie ends with the ultimate hurrah for masculinity – the lineage of the Pandeys carries forth, the chirag – a baby. Dabangg 3 – what would that bring? Will they make another one? Maybe. More Rahat numbers, references to previous dialogue – numbers with Kitply, or Rasna – item with Deepika, Pandeyji being manipulated by his kid, more nakhras from the missus. I am sure the audience would not expect any less. I am sure Arbaaz and Salman are building other adventure moats, swords, skill play to make their own game incredibly gripping.

Here’s my wish list: Pandey has two daughters – Bulbul and Jhilmil. His wife now works in a multi-national corp and replaces her backless blouses for a business suit or a nice silk saree with a full blouse, they balance the corporate life and public service life. Vinod Khanna actually has an affair with Asma and she leaves her husband for him. Makhi remains a wastrel.  This time the goon is someone who Pandey helps change not with blows but with mind games. Blows do happen but in real time. I want to see Rajjo and Chulbul vacation in India – in Goa, or Coorg. I want Vidya Balan – not in an item number (that would be nice too) but getting a meaty role.

Will I watch Dabangg 3 – yes I will. I will take my brain along as well. Surprise me.

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