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Sep 13, 2010 at 05:12pm IST

Masand: 'Dabangg' is ordinary, at best average

Cast: Salman Khan, Sonakshi Sinha, Vinod Khanna, Arbaaz Khan

Director: Abhinav Kashyap

Who'd have thought one caterpillar moustache and a pair of Ray Ban Aviators (that he dangles from the back collar of his shirt, by the way) is all it needed to finally turn Salman Khan into a wholesome character on screen?

That character is Inspector Chulbul Pandey, the charming protagonist of director Abhinav Kashyap's Dabangg; and for a change Salman doesn't sleepwalk through this role. In fact it's the most fun you seen him having on screen as far back as you can remember.

Kashyap's haphazardly plotted film is set in a small town in Uttar Pradesh, where Chulbul Pandey is a lovable but corrupt cop who steals from the bad guys and passes on some of the cash to those in genuine need. In a thoroughly enjoyable opening set piece that defines the tone of this film, he single-handedly vanquishes a gang of armed crooks, with only a water hose at his disposal.

The action in this movie has a distinctly comic-book feel to it, reminiscent of those popular Tamil B-movies. Villains are repeatedly whacked on the head with iron rods, and glass slabs are smashed into their faces, yet it's not the kind of visceral violence that makes you turn away your face disgustedly. Filmed mostly in slo-mo, and involving several gravity-defying gimmicks these action scenes, choreographed by Telugu cinema veteran S Vijayan, are the sort that are likely to elicit wolf-whistles.

Salman never shies away from mixing up the silly with the serious; and in fact some of the film's most entertaining scenes are borne out of this formula. When the mobile phone of the villain's henchman goes off in the middle of a fight, Chulbul breaks into a jig set to the musical caller tune. And in a later seemingly serious confrontation scene with a crooked local politician, he breaks into splits himself on delivering a cheap-but-hilarious threat that is too crude to repeat here.

Infusing the film's action, dance and comic portions with a pedestrian stylishness that is entirely original and inexplicably endearing, Salman is consistently watchable despite the flawed script. Kashyap's plot is centered on Chulbul's animosity towards his stepfather and half-brother (played by Vinod Khanna and Arbaaz Khan), and his clash with a politician-thug (played by Sonu Sood). The domestic discord is a weak link that's never substantially explained or justified; and this is the kind of predictable film in which the villain will exploit the hostility between the brothers to get back at Chulbul.

Blame it on the disjointed screenplay if Dabangg works not so much as a coherent, consistent film, but as a string of set-pieces. As a result it feels way longer than its two-hours-and-five-minutes running time, and the climatic action scene that takes place outside the villain's den seems never-ending.

The track that stands out in this fractured narrative is the playful romance between Chulbul and Rajo, the daughter of a local drunk who he practically bullies into falling for him. It helps that newcomer Sonakshi Sinha has a smoldering presence, and is never lost even in scenes in which she has nothing to do. For a change, the half-dozen or so songs in this film are a welcome distraction because they're distinctly melodious, and because Salman bursts life into them with his comical performance. The imaginatively shot title track, and the Munni badnaam hui item song (filmed on Malaika Arora) are particularly memorable.

Intended as a throwback to those masala 70s potboilers set in the hinterland of India, Dabangg has the ambition and the imagination, it appears, but suffers on account of schizophrenic writing. The film's second half is tiresome to sit through, particularly those long, plodding scenes in which Sonu Sood's character plots his revenge on Chulbul. One isn't looking for an intelligent storyline or character depth in this kind of movie, but there is no excuse for the uneven pacing, and for the film's middle portion that is unmistakably boring.

Of the supporting cast, Vinod Khanna has precious little to do but scowl, and Dimple Kapadia as Chulbul's mother hams it up till your sides hurt from laughing. Arbaaz Khan is sadly wooden, but Sonu Sood makes an impression as the smiling bad guy.

The film then belongs to Salman Khan who dives into the character with an enthusiasm we haven't seen before. He relishes every moment of delivering those cocky lines, and turns Chulbul Pandey into possibly the most enduring character he's ever played.

You're laughing when his shirt rips open in the movie's climax by the sheer flexing of his muscles, but that's a good metaphor to describe this film even. An ordinary, at best average film, Dabangg can barely contain the presence of its larger-than-life star.

I'm going with two-and-a-half out of five for director Abhinav Kashyap's Dabangg. Watch it strictly for Salman, who delivers enough bang for your buck!

Rating: 2.5 / 5

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