Debunking 'Dabangg'

Introspection

Debunking 'Dabangg'

Boisterous: Salman Khan and Sonakshi Sinha in ‘Dabangg’

Everything is steeped in machismo. From the tug at the belt in a dance sequence to the gyrations with Munni. Sunglasses do a flip mid air. Foes tumble down asbestos roofs and free fall to doom. Matrix meets Rajnikant meets Prakash Mehra meets Vishal Bharadwaj meets Bhojpuri cinema in Abhinav Kashyap’s Dabangg.

Much has been said about how different Abhinav Kashyap’s boisterous, masala spiked cinema is from his brother Anurag Kashyap’s grit and grime but there is one common factor that binds both Dabangg and Dev D. The heroes in both have no moral core. They are self-seeking creatures of impulse and have only a bare semblance of  conscience and do not introspect at all. The world they encounter is either with them or against them.

Both have uneasy relationships with the father figure in their life and grow up feeling alienated and angry. In adulthood, Dev self-destructs and Chulbul Pandey smashes into people and walls and doors, takes bribes, celebrates his manhood by bashing up his kid brother, uses his fists more than his tongue and calls himself a Robin Hood though the only kind thing he ever does is to forgive his extended family at some point and to marry the sad, forlorn village beauty after inadvertently causing a suicide.

He even interrupts her mourning so that he can whisk her away for a honeymoon to Dubai. At a time when cinema critics are reviling the premise of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love as an I, Me and Myself journey, it is amazing how neither Dev D nor Dabangg have been questioned for being self-absorbed. If Dev was morbid, Chulbul is rabid. If the unforgiving Dev deconstructs the idea of a Devdas who could not forgive himself, Chulbul deconstructs the anti heroes of the 70s and 80s who despite their flaws stood for a modicum of honour. There is no honour in anything he does but he is an entertainer.

At every given opportunity, be it the thump of a caller tune or the beat of a Nautanki item, he dances like no one is watching him, much like Dharmendra’s buffoon cop in Pratigya. He walks in slow motion, insults people to their faces,  mumbles to himself helplessly when he falls in love with a hard-to-read woman,  is immensely watchable because he makes his audience laugh.

What they love most about him is that he releases them from the need to judge and question a  story without a story. A recent incident of cops battering a cinema hall attendant after watching the movie shows why a hero without any trace of morality is such a draw today. In many ways, Pandey’s appeal is linked closely to that of Salman. Both are infallibly self-assured and care a damn about what the world thinks of their code of living. Like Chulbul, Salman too has been accused of many things but he is still a hero because he thinks he is.

Both Chulbul and Salman exemplify unbridled ‘manhood’ that had been tamed in the wake of the pink-shirted, metro-sexual male in the past decade. For a long time, we have had heroes apologetic about being heroes. Heroes who got yelled at by wives and girlfriends, brought up children, cooked, grew misty eyed with love.

For a long time now,  no hero has flexed his muscles to remind us what it is like to be an omnipotent male. Yes, there was Ghajini but the scarred hero-turned-killing machine in that film had the excuse of a monstrous tragedy riding his back.

With Dabangg however, Salman resurrects and avenges the jovial, eccentric and yet dangerously attractive He Man who had vanished from movie lore with Dharmendra. And this time, he is pettier, meaner. This is not to say that Dabangg begins and ends with Salman’s testosterone. Some of the most fetching scenes are the quieter moments of humour Chulbul shares with his mother.

The visual flavour of UP hinterlands, perfected by Vishal Bharadwaj in Omkara is a big presence here as well and it is refreshing to see homes and bazaars and landscapes that smell of India, not of sanitised impersonal locales of US, Europe or Australia.
But in the end, the film is about the triumphant return of the wolf whistle inducing hero who had vanished licking his wounds from mainstream cinema. He is back with a bang now to punch holes in your sense of disbelief and moral fastidiousness. And if you can’t deal with it, too bad. The shirts are off. So are the gloves and the pretenses. What you see is what you get so deal with it. The Dabangg juggernaut will not stop for you because it screams what almost everyone wants to hear. That if a man has self assurance, he can get anything and get away with anything.

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