Dabangg – A Review (Guest Post)

Written by  //  September 21, 2010  //  Media & Popular Culture  //  5 Comments

A guest post by Shreyas Rajagopal. Shreyas is a 24 year old freelance writer living in Mumbai and has spent a majority of his life reading comics and watching films. In his past avatar he was an investment banker. Here he writes a detailed review of the recently released Dabangg, which by all accounts is a major major hit!

I saw Dabangg last weekend and was completely blown away. That seems to be the consensus amongst the thousands of people who have seen the film, including very many who would not be the typical target audience for a Bollywood-Salman-Action film.

I have read multiple reviews of the film in popular media with words like “paisa wasool” and “mass-entertainer” have been used whilst maintaining that though the film would be a financial behemoth it lacks somewhat in the script/storytelling department. And a particular reviewer scoffed at it and said that a film wearing its origins so blatantly could have added a separate treatment a la Om Shanti Om (OSO).

While OSO was a fun film and also arguably some pretty good film making – I would not sell Dabangg short at all. I think it was far superior.

Dabangg is a genre film.

And it is a spectacular genre film. I have seen all the action films of the 80s and love the glory of Suneil Shetty-Akshay Kumar era of the mid 90s. And while they helped set the parameters of a genre: Dabangg revelled in it.

Anurag Kashyap said it would be a film Tarantino made. People scoff because in this case he is hardly an un-biased party. But I agree with him.

A genre film is one which keeps a strong pace while touching every milestone set out in the genre. It takes some very very good storytelling to do that without losing the plot.

And most importantly: a genre film is judged by the rules of the genre.

Here is why it is a much better piece of “cinema” than people would agree right away:

** Serious Spoilers Ahead **

1. It has a plot. There are heroes and villains and relationships between some protagonists change during the course of the film. The romance was done well and smartly and effectively. Serving to further fill in the character of Mr. Chulbul Pandey. He is fearless (duh) and is driven by an enormous ego and a twisted sense of honour. This is all we need as an audience. He is pissed off and feels the whole world owes him something – the background of which was etched very cleanly. We never question why he feels this way…

2. Again in the plot the character motivations seem clean and not terribly convoluted. The step-brother’s character was confused and wandering: but he is supposed to be a jellyfish and his pre-climax over compensation seems apt. The step-father does a 180 towards the end but at that time he is vulnerable and the reconciliation happens because he sees Chulbul no longer as a threat (he probably hates him for being better than his own son, and fears what would happen when he dies) but as a support. The heroine loves Chulbul because he is an alpha male where she is surrounded by men she had to take care of her whole life (drunken dad, handicapped brother). And Dimple did a kick-ass job as a mother torn down the middle. We don’t need 30 minute dialogue heavy scenes to get  it. We are a smart audience. A 45 second scene is enough to establish relationships.

The mother torn between sons is done better here than in Deewar and Ram Lakhan and so many other “genre” films.

3. Again on plotting: all the cannons are shot. I cannot emphasize this enough: from the inhaler and the asthma, to the money stolen at the bank heist (forming such a huge plot pivot – almost a macguffin), even the explanation for the sunglasses (which we were all wondering about) there was an attention to detail here sorely missing in many other films.

4. Subtlety in storytelling. Now you are wondering if we even saw the same film!

- Sonakshi’s nervous almost sub-conscious adjustment of her pallu on her shoulders when Salman is talking to her – its glorious. She feels naked in his glare: and we see that. (Again very different from the gratuitous almost exploitative stance taken during Sallu’s last hit: Wanted)

-  A hilarious abroad song shoot (it would have been Australia or Switzerland for a Yash Raj film – here it was Dubai because that is where a corrupt cop from small town UP would go for his honeymoon!) which helped build the characters

4. This film knew its genre and exploited it. We got all the one-liners we could want (Salman only spoke in those), we got 2-3 liquor drenched songs with the requiste pelvic thrusts, well choreographed fight sequences (phone ringing mid fight was a touch of genius; also the song is from Wanted), right touch of sentimentality (the sunglasses hiding tears was very effective) and the requisite touch of the bizarre (the weird photographer guy).

5. Salman was shirtless only once in the film. We knew it was coming – it was just a question of the when and the how. I don’t think anyone could have written that part better. This was better than anything Takashi Miike could come up with.

It is a clean reference to the Super-Heroism of the heroes of the genre (like a certain green guy who we will not like angry). That worked better than the hero surviving explosions and multiple gunshots.

The simplest stories are the toughest to tell. Genre stories even more so.

Every character served their purpose (even Om Puri and Anupam Kher in short cameos) and character motivations are clear and we get spirited along to the inevitable ending.

Nothing in the film is by chance, and it has been put together very consciously and very carefully. So carefully in fact that you almost don’t notice.

That is great storytelling and great cinema.

About the Author

Sanhita is a graduate of National Law School of India University, Bangalore and currently enrolled in a joint degree at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and Harvard Law School. Her interests in economic and social policy, diplomacy and human rights are only secondary to her penchant for writing mushy romantic novellas for Mills and Boons.

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5 Comments on "Dabangg – A Review (Guest Post)"

  1. Shantanu September 22, 2010 at 7:36 am ·

    Nice piece Shreyas. I really liked the movie, but hadn’t been able to put my finger on exactly what made it such a good watch.

  2. vivekananda September 26, 2010 at 6:08 pm ·

    Ok I was expecting something marginally more intelligent on this site. Unfortunately this is the same uncritical salivating which is quickly becoming the norm of the day.

    Dabaang is basically a south indian movie made in hindi. That is all there is to it. There is now an unfortunate trend of Bollywood remaking south indian flicks (Ghajini, wanted and many more that are in the works) and offering them under this “genre” or “mass” category. Bullshit. These are movies calculatedly made to work for an uneducated and unexposed audience which the makers confidently label “the masses”. Essentially an excuse for sloppy cinema that seeks to do nothing but titillate. Youporn I believe is a cheaper and less painful option to achieve this.

    This totally beats me. If Rajini does this it is something to be scoffed while more articulate (in english atleast) Bollywood stars do it it immediately becomes some mind bending exercise in machoism worthy of all our love?

    If people are really interested in this type of kichidis with bone crushing fights, innane melodrama and silly romantic sub plots, I invite you to cut out these convicts and middle man and start watching bloody south indian movies directly.

  3. vivekananda September 26, 2010 at 6:10 pm ·

    apologies for the typos above.

  4. Shreyas October 1, 2010 at 2:37 pm ·

    I have to agree that it seems that Bollywood is aping the South as they fight to regain the single theatre audience they lost during the entire Karan Johar / Yash Raj era. But South cinema can hardly take 100% ownership of the “masala” genre.

    Ghajini and Wanted (the remakes) were both deeply flawed films (if enjoyable on a superficial “titillating” level)
    Yes, Dabangg is no Jim Jarmusch film – but you will have to allow that it never posed to be so. It is a “genre” film, and is definitely not a “sloppy” film. (Like say Wolverine Origins)

    Also responding further with:
    1. No one scoffing at Rajni
    2. Even if this genre has more representation in Tamil/Telugu films doesn’t mean that a well done Hindi genre film is to be rejected off-hand. It is akin to comparing Sholay with Kurusawa.
    3. No where did I claim that the story was terribly original. The whole genre is built on cliches and I respect that the filmmakers understood this rather than sully it with un-required plot devices.

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