Chulbul Pandey, co-written by writer-director Abhinav Kashyap and enacted by Salman Khan, is the most thunderously crackling character I’ve seen in a Bollywood film in months.
This lower-rung cop in small-town Uttar Pradesh is so larger than life that when he stands fully erect and enraged, his shirt rips off his body from the sheer force of his muscles-just like The Incredible Hulk.
Chulbul is cheerfully corrupt but not without honour. He steals from the bad guys and occasionally passes it on to the poor and calls himself Robin Hood Pandey.
He delivers killer one-liners, defeats dozens of armed gunmen with a water hose, does Rajnikant-like tricks with his Ray-Bans and charmingly bulldozes the local beauty into marrying him.
Chulbul Pandey is an unstoppable force of nature. And did I mention that he also makes fart jokes.
It’s the role of a lifetime and Salman Khan bites into it like a starving man devours a feast. He inhabits it fully, strutting and swaggering and even, spoofing himself.
Like Amitabh Bachchan and Vijay, Shah Rukh Khan and Raj, the actor and character are a perfect fit. Chulbul Pandey is an absolute delight.
Like its hero, Dabangg doesn’t bother with subtlety or sub-text. Taking a cue from the potboilers of the 1970s and the more recent bone-crunching street heroes being churned out of Chennai – you recall Ghajini and Wanted – debutant director Abhinav Kashyap has created a purposefully loud masala movie.
The dialogues, co-written by Dilip Shukla, are unapologetic clap-traps; the action artfully choreographed by S Vijayan is comic-book – so in the midst of a battle, when a phone rings, Pandey pauses to admire its ring-tone – and the musical score by Sajid-Wajid is deafening enough to beat you into submission.
A lot of this – especially the rollicking item number Munni Badnam Hui by Lalit Pandit – is seriously good fun.
But the trouble is that these set-pieces of dialogue, dance and fight aren’t connected to each other in any meaningful way.
Kashyap and Shukla have created an engaging character but they don’t provide him an engaging narrative to play in.
Dabangg, about Chulbul’s love-hate relationship with his stepfather and stepbrother, is a structural mess.
The first half is all set-up-each scene essentially being a showcase for Chulbul-so when interval arrives, you are still waiting for the story to begin.
When the story finally kicks in, it turns out to be a tired rehash of conniving politicians, familial misunderstanding and revenge.
The plot movement is random – anything is possible at anytime.
The supporting cast is limp-Arbaaz Khan, who has also produced the film, is consistently wooden; Sonu Sood keeps glowering and poor Vinod Khanna wears exactly two expressions: anger and helplessness.
There are too many songs and too, too much fighting, which becomes more gory and gratuitous as the film unfolds. Dabangg feels longer than it is and way more exhausting than it should.
Still I recommend that you see the film for the sheer pleasure of watching Salman Khan in top form.
And for the nicely smoldering Sonakshi who despite their difference in age and experience, holds her own effectively.
Dabangg ends with the promise of a sequel. I would be happy to see more of Chulbul Pandey. I only hope that Kashyap writes him a better script.