I am a late latif. Things have happened late in my life for which I am supremely responsible as I have done things late in life. So, it is no surprise that I watched Dabang late yesterday evening when everyone else has already seen, reacted to, dissected, de-glorified and discarded it without an infinitesimal pause or pinch of qualm. But I cannot reject it as just a “C” grade movie and the incorrigible that I am, have the audacity to sit down to write a review on a delectable cinematic feast which has by now turned stale and sour.
Running the risk of being criticized as an iconoclast, I’d say Dabang presents a chunk of reality from which we turn our faces away everyday in search of a Utopian contentment which is too idealistic to exist. A horde of negative characters – a stepfather (Vinod Khanna as Prajapati Pandey) who does not naturally like his stepson (Salman Khan as Chulbul Pandey), a stepson who understandably hates his step brother(Arbaaz Khan as Makkhi urf Makkhan Prasad Pandey) whom his father has a congenital weakness for, a harassed, asthmatic mother (Dimple Kapadia) who having remarried by choice, acts as a referee between the brawling stepson and stepfather, a not so innocent village damsel (Sonakshi) saddled with a drunkard, “natural” father (Mahesh Manjrekar) for whom she is ready to embrace spinsterhood as there is nobody to look after him, a hoodlum (Sonu Sood as Chhedi Singh) who brazenly misuses his connection with the State Home Minister (Anupam Kher) and runs illegitimate thekas and openly resorts to gundagardi. A Minister unhappy with his henchman gone out of control and wants to bring him to books but does not know how.
Dark, shady characters emanating unhealthy vibes which permeate two and a half hours of cinematic treatment! So what best can these characters do but indulge in unhealthier deeds contaminating the viewers minds. The unhappy Chulbul grows up to become a police man of questionable repute and resorts to, needless to say, all sorts of corrupt deals and rebellious moves which incur his father’s wrath in increasing measures till he kicks him out of his house after his mother’s death. The deglamorized Dimple, the mother, spends her entire life doing the balancing act within the family till she is asphyxiated to death by Chhedi Singh. The weakling, Makkhi, loots his brother’s money to give to his would be father-in-law, a school teacher, who conforming to the misrepresented image of the clan, leads a hand to mouth existence. All this rigmarole because Prajapati Pandey is keen to gain a hefty dowry off Makkhi’s marriage to clear his debt burdens and be comfortable in his old age! Chulbul naturally (what best can a corrupt cop do?) enters into an under-hand-arrangement with the politician, (the Home Minister), to “downsize” Chhedi Singh. In turn, Chhedi Singh instigates his would be father-in-law, another corrupt cop (Om Puri), to remove Chulbul from the face of this earth and the pawn in this vicious game plan is Makkhi, Chulbul’s younger brother! A succinct summation of today’s reality which our eyes and ears are too accustomed to see and hear in Newspapers and News Channels, perhaps off reel and print too. And anybody who refutes that is reliving a myth with all its inveigling contraptions - either the media is dishing out “soaps” or Ram Rajya has been successfully instituted in our country to the fuming frenzy of the Jehadis.
Now, what do I like best in this very-close-to-reality plot and predictable twists and turns of the usual story line – there is no Ram like hero and Sita like Devi in the whole movie. There is no love lost between the two siblings. The step son is more overpowering than the natural son, in spite of the father’s presence. The sons are not dying to sacrifice their lives for the sake of parental love, familial bond, each other etc. The father is not getting all dewy eyed on the “mera beta” theme, be it natural or step. The villain is not always having the upper hand over the bechara hero and vice versa. The hero does not have a miniscule bit of the curve of the m of morals and is a goonda of matching calliber. No respect is shown for social rituals or obligations as Chulbul unceremoniously shoos away the mourners and gets married to his “sweat”-heart soon after his father-in-law’s demise that too in the same mandap put up for his stepbrother’s marriage (Is the director forewarning what mera Bharat mahaan is heading to?). There is no moral of the story and nobody is looking out for any. Everything is an arrangement of convenience – the relationships, the compromises, the gory deeds, the gorier repercussions et al and such is life, my friends, isn’t it? If we care to take off our rose tinted spectacles of illusions and cogitate!
Now, what I do not like about the movie, which is very little of course (?). Although Director, Abhinav Sinha or Anubhav, or whosoever it is, does a crisp job, or should we give the credit to the script writer and the editor, my discerning eyes could still detect a few chinks in the armour. (1) Why is Prajapati Pandey’s house in a perpetual ramshackle state – the wash basin is synonymous to a dirt bin and the plaster peeling off the stain smeared walls? In twenty one years, couldn’t he find time or scrape a saving to get his house white washed? (2)If, yes, then how come his wife so conveniently flaunts expensive cotton and hand woven heavy silk sarees? (In some of the shots, she looks positively conscious of her attire which lets a jarring note intrude into a positively serious overture!!!). (4) Why is that a ‘seasoned’ cop like Chulbul Pandey not able to figure out that his mother has not died a natural death and that it’s a murder? (5)Why is that the “jhandu balm” scene invariably reminds one of the “namak ishq ka” sequence from Omkara? Though, with a vital difference – while in the latter the hero does not lapse into jhatkas and thumkas and Bip Basu cannot, even as she may try hard, shrug off her urban sophistry, Malaika Arora Khan, does not leave anything to imagination!!
Coming to emoting, Salman Khan rules the roost. From the lift of an eyebrow to his shiny shoes, he lives the character. My heart went out to Dimple Kapadia, a mother with a difference!! Vinod Khanna, I think, gave one of his stupendous performances as the hateful stepfather, understating his histrionics - disapproval and dislike for his stepson - to an award winning height, which reminded me so much of his “Achanak” days when Gulzaar re-invented him from the rut of villainy that he was wasting his time in. Sonakshi is underutilized but I stole glimpses of a promise there!! Last but not the least, Sonu Sood, as the quintessential village goon (inspired by Pappu Yadav?), is a complete surprise package from the Badjatiya brand of the all-patience and benevolent boyfriend image that he was wallowing in, in his last flop. Again a restrained show of vile debauchery and venomous foul play here! Arbaaz Khan is forgettably passable. Sajid Wajid duo does a good job in the music department and the songs are in absolute sync with the bawdy milieu. I also liked the rugged brown palette that follows frame after frame insinuating broadly the wretchedness of semi-urban lives, the rustic tints of the characters, the unforgiving balefulness in relationships and the unmitigated dolefulness of familial dilemma and tugs of war that emerge out of unfulfilled wants and expectations and raunchy bawdiness which may be mistaken as intervallic comic relief or gaiety. Not to forget the interceptions of black and white to underscore retrogression or mulling over the past, is a fruitful attempt at infusing aesthetics and subtlety into a coarse, commercial venture.
In the final analysis, Dabang is not all that richshawwallah bhayya stuff that we are making it out to be. This is the only movie in which the violence, and there is quite a good measure of it, does not stand out like an ugly mole on a stretch of flawless skin. In short, the actions jell well with the story, backdrop, characters etc. What best can you expect from a pack of disgruntled, misguided and dying to quickly-earn-a-few-extra-bucks youth who did not grow up mugging up the Jatak Katha or such other moral scriptures by heart? The message of the story – corruption and other anti social acts have major psychological undercurrents and stem from unhappy childhood and family feuds and factions and are not outcomes of human greed and susceptibility to temptations, as was till now propagated by the opinion gurus in the market. In fact, Dabang, to me, is a milestone movie of Indian, especially, Hindi Cinema! It is the only and only movie which has opened the gateway for such other movies to flock in (considering the box office success), in recent future. Soon there will be a long queue of formula – one films shorn off all sentimental hypocrisy, hog wash, eye wash and all other kinds of bathing pleasures which submerge the spectators in over melodramatized cascades of lust-free love, altruistic care, religious fraternity, unity in diversity, familial piety etc. etc. for almost three hours and which the viewers are stupid enough to put their faith in and search around outside the plush ambiance of the PVR, where the exact opposites enjoy a gala freak.
Pros – Banes of life and society uninhibitedly brandished by a bevy of brawny men
Cons – Cynical snowball of harsh inhumanities which seems more commonplace
than hard hitting.