The Big Da Bangg Theory

Salman Khan conquers the country with a startlingly stupid film

As a cursory glance at the box office will tell you, we all watched Dabangg this weekend. The film has been unanimously toasted, and a big bravo to Salman Khan for flexing his megastardom and tearing the shirt off the industry’s pretentions. With a sneering invincibility invoking Lord Rajnikanth himself, Khan swaggers and struts his way through the film, that thin line of hair above his lip acting like Superman’s spit-curl and endowing him with whistle-provoking screen presence. It’s the kind of thing our Bollywood men haven’t experienced in decades, and Khan pulls it off like only he can, unencumbered by the need to act.

Abhinav Singh Kashyap, not so much. Dabangg is unashamed, unapologetic, unpretentious – all laudable assets – but did it also have to be so goddamned unintelligent? The film had such magnificent potential, a throwback to the cheesy cinema of the 80s riding on the shoulders of a superstar who’d guarantee it an audience. There was room for irony, wit, awesomeness, in-jokes, but the debutant director seems careful not to have anything to do with the word clever – save perhaps a nod to Mohammed Hanif’s fantastic first novel – laying out a story so bloody plotless and coming up with a film that is nothing but background for Salman to trample on.

And that’s just pathetic. A tribute to a lost era of cinema is all very well, but you absolutely have to bring something new to the table. Om Shanti Om did it with elan, heading into the seventies and borrowing framework and plotpoints from the era, but also giving us a bonafide romantic comedy with heart and very distinct identity. Tashan is as 80s as cinema gets, with some brilliant moments as a Ramayana narrative is threaded through a bizarre action movie. This film, on the other hand, falls on the side of movies like Wanted: there may as well have been no script, with everything being superstar indulgence.

But, you might counter, it works. The film is a blast, people are having fun in theatres, and it’s full-on paisa vasool entertainment that delivers exactly what it promises. True that, but it held the promise of more. It isn’t a take on 80s cheese, it *is* 80s cheese. Except there’s one critical difference: there is no plot. Our worst films from two decades ago were hammy, melodramatic, over-the-top, blatantly manipulative – but you couldn’t fault them for a lack of storyline. From revenge to reincarnated siblings to evil thakurs to family feuds to impostors to amnesia, the films of the 80s, if anything, were immensely, claustrophobically plot-heavy.

In Dabangg, even a dying mother doesn’t really matter. The Aviator sunglasses, on the other hand, do. Anurag Kashyap, who recently tweeted a picture of himself with Quentin Tarantino, has praised his brother’s film highly, and said it’s the kind of film Tarantino would have made in India. Well, he might know Quentin better than us mere mortals, and while the worst of Tarantino’s frames can be criticised for too much self-indulgence, show me one shot that’s predictable. Dabangg could have been an iconic, subversive classic. It ended up a poor joke, one that had no business being longer than a 20-minute YouTube short. This isn’t a throwback, it’s a throw-behind, a film that celebrates the very worst of our cinema and revels in its awfulness. The star works without question, but the film is a monstrosity.

And yet we celebrate it, because people are dancing in the aisles and throwing coins on multiplex screens. First Ghajini, then Wanted, and now this. This film has guaranteed that twice a year for the foreseeable future, a megastar will be foisted upon us in a shameless and harebrained assault on the senses. And this just when we thought we had left that cinema behind. Groan.


First published Mumbai Mirror, September 15, 2010


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  1. X

    Sir jee,

    Can you point me to the source where AK said QT liked Dabangg?
    OR you are following the notorious imposter of Anurag Kashyap on twitter?

    Also QT said he liked Kaante also :) He is just being courteous towards lesser mortals.

  2. BKS

    I think this Baang in kashmir has something to do with this Da-baang and hindi heart land will see more waywardness and youth on rampage &this malaise is taking over all parts of India .Such cimema is atrocious to sense and peaceful value as well and outright ban all Da-Baang types resorting to voilence &taking rule in their hand.

  3. Rachit

    each n every word of ur article is true!! very true! we ‘deserve’ a plot! simple! ‘leave ur brains behind’ is such a stupid statetment to make

  4. Indhu

    I thought Dabaang was pure fun and entertainment in the midst of all the movies that crap your head out on bringing out the gray shades in human nature! It was simple and sweet.. Well thats just me :) may be bcos am a Rajini fan

  5. ravi

    Well,to each,his own.Atleast Dabangg never had any pretensions of being an intellegent film.It was meant to entertain and boy it did. Unlike the dumb Rab ne bana di jodi for which I am sure you would have gone out of your way to give atleast 6 and a half stars out of 5.

      1. Manish Upadhyay

        Awesome reply Raja …. i have been doing the same thing for u in rediff posts … i have seen some dumbass brats beating ur reviews and shouting that Raja must have given 5 * to any Shahrukh movies and I always had hard times searching your reviews from Rediff’s database and telling them that see Raja Sen is not a silly guy ….he calls a Spade a spade ….. I am actually delighted by your befitting one line reply to this fella.

  6. Anand

    I thought it was fun! But maybe because I could fast forward the songs and some of the fights…?!

    I liked Ghajini too especially all parts of it with Asin in it…except the shameless copy of the scene from Amelie…at least the climax was less gory (if you can believe it) than the Tamil version!

  7. Ashish

    Hi RS,

    I always used to follow your reviews as they used to be very much on the mark as far as I was concerned. I loved Dev-D and LSD and was 3 Idiots fell way short of the mark set by Lage raho Munnabhai for me too. I might be late with my comment on Dabbang (as I just happened upon you write up on it today); but I am not sure I agree with you on a need for a plot. I enjoyed its mindlessness; and though I wouldnt say that it could not have been more enjoyable or better in some way, I am not sure having a more sensible plot in there would have done the trick. A enjoyable plate of paani-puri might get better for sure; but adding caviar to it is not the solution; as much as one might like caviar otherwise. (on a different personal note, I dont like caviar that much) .. Anyway always interested in hearing your views..

  8. Gaurav Chahal

    Raja, I realy admire the way you have brought up the right review of Dabangg. I truly agree with you and by far you’re the most genuine critic I have seen or read online. Please continue the goodwork and ignore people critcizing you coz people loving mindless cinema ideally does not have brains themselves.

  9. Shashikiran

    Reading your review of the movie was a big relief.
    I had felt terribly lonely in disliking the mindlessness of the movie while the the entire country seemed to toast the same.
    I could not comprehend the success formula of the movie, one bit. For god’s sake, it does not even have some catchy one-liners

  10. Zoeb

    Absolutely spot-on review Mr Sen
    I appreciate it how you considered the entire film in detail. You are right. The film has no plot, no sense and even no genuine humour.
    Movies like Tashan were fun because they did not pretend to be serious.
    Dabanng tries to be really modern and not cliched. It winds up in big disaster.
    PS- When you mentioned the Mohammed Hanif novel nod, I was taken aback. I tried to recall what part of the movie that was. Then I knew. You were talking about the box of mangoes scene.
    Really ingenious of you! It simply knocked me out!

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