Dabangg: Bollywood Masala Formula Remixed

By • Sep 13th, 2010
Category: Books, Movies, Music, Televison, Bollywood, Bombay/Mumbai, People, Video, YouTube Videos

(This is not a review but a collection of my impressions while I watched the film.)

Where or how do I begin to describe Salman Khan’s new film Dabangg? I had two tracks going in my mind simultaneously when watching the film. One track to keep tabs on the unfolding drama on the silver screen and a second track that constantly bombarded me with flashback memories and familiar references ranging from MGR, Rajnikanth to Reena Roy to Bunty aur Bubli, Matrix, El Mariachi and Once Upon a Time in Mexico. And when I sat down to mix both these tracks this is what I came up with. This is a remix of my thoughts about Dabangg.

Dabangg is a good old formula film tweaked and updated along with slick editing and special effects for the 21st century Internet and cell phone savvy population. The film pays homage (or borrows) from Bollywood and South Indian films from the 1970s and 1980s to new Hollywood films like Matrix, Lord of the Rings to El Mariachi. The borrowed elements might not stand out clearly since the director, editor and cameraman have done a fairly good job of blending all the various elements that at times you are unsure where you heard that piece of background music or why a certain scene looks a little familiar. Dabangg’s storyline has been Salmanized (new word?) so thoroughly that Salman Khan is front and center and has the best masala lines in this home production of his. While watching Dabangg I got the sense as if co-producers Salman Khan and his brother Arbaaz wanted to capture the distilled essence of all the masala movies they have seen in the last 30 odd years of their lives. Unsurprisingly they start with their dad Salim of Salim-Javed fame.

Dabangg is Abhinav Kashyap’s directorial debut that stars Salman Khan, Arbaaz Khan, Vinod Khanna, Dimple Kapadia, Anupam Kher, Sonu Sood and Sonakshi Sinha, who is also making her debut. The film has a a fairly uncomplicated storyline of two brothers and how they reconcile their differences. The story is just a mere skeleton that has been plumped with tons of one line zingers and a couple of high-powered songs including Munni Badnam Hui. The creators of the film have clearly executed to the old and tested formula of the 1970s and 1980s revolving around a story of revenge packed with lots of fights and  peppered with 3-4 songs and a cabaret number by Helen (who is Salman and Arbaaz’s step-mother). In Dabangg the fight scenes are enhanced by slick editing and special effect and the highlight of the song and dance sequence is the raunchy item number (cabaret is now called item number) by Maalika Arora, who is the co-producer of the film along with Salman and Arbaaz. Munni Badnam Hui reminded me of Bipasha Bapu’s Beedi Jalai Le from Omkar.

Let us start with the storyline. The two brothers plot sounds familiar? It should. That was the trademark of Salim-Javed, who popularized this formula in so many of their films right from Zanjeer and Deewar. Dimple Kapadia plays the mother of the two brothers: Chulbul (Salman) and Makhhanchand (Arbaaz) You right away notice the contrast in names and wonder how they are different? Chulbul is bubbling with joy and laughter, while Makhanchand or Makhi (which also means fly) is the weaker and non-working sibling, who is in love with a poor school teacher’s daughter. Note the standard component in many formula Hindi films from yesteryears, which is the second heroine’s father is a poor, school teacher. (Hint: think AK Hangal). Dimple is unlike the ma portrayed in old formula films (think Nirupa Roy), but is instead one with spirit although that part is not developed in the film enough. Vinod Khanna plays the father (step-father of Salman), a not so savvy businessman, who takes out a huge loan to improve his businessman. (Borrowing money to improve business is is a common theme in the movies of the 1970s and 1980s). Unlike the fathers in the old films (think AK Hangal or Satyen Kappu) that were helpless victims of their circumstance, Vinod has some “dum” or spirit and knows how to take care of his interests.

Sonakshi Sinha plays the love interest of Salman. Like many of the heroines from the 1970s and 1980s Sonakshi’s father is the village alcoholic and it is her job to keep tabs on him.It took me a while to realize that Sonakshi’s role was probably an amalgamation of Asha Parekh and Reena Roy.Both these heroines were typically cast as spirited and yet coy women in their respective films. Sonakshi’s role also reminded me of Jayalalitha in old Tamil films opposite MGR. The women in most of the films played a marginal role, but they were strong-willed.

The bad man in the film is played by Sonu Sood, who reminded me of Danny Denzogopa from the old Hindi films like Fakira or Kaala Sona. Danny had a strong presence and was either reticent or had some “dhasu” (outstanding) dialogs in his films but that cannot be said of Sonu’s role in Dabangg since most of the best lines in the film belong to Salman. Instead Sonu’s role reminded me of the good old pehalwan (wrestler) Master Dara Singh, who generally flexed his muscles and showed off his well-toned body. In Dabangg there are a couple of scenes where Sonu flexes his muscles and shows off his toned body.

You might be wondering where is the reference to South Indian superstars MGR and Rajnikanth in Dabangg? It is there in the way Salman is introduced to the audience. It is that highly stylized entrance, which is a hallmark of MGR and Rajnikanth films, where the actor clearly plays to the gallery. After Salman makes his entry he flips and twirls his Rayban glasses in that all familiar rapid style twirling, which is a classic Rajnikanth trademark. Then there is the way in which Salman delivers those zingers and it is there in his reference as Robin Hood Pandey, which means is a savior of the poor and that is the default character that MGR and Rajnikanth play in their respective films. The thought that flashed through my mind after the first scenes of Salman was: Why he is Spiderman, MGR, Rajnikanth and NTR all rolled into one character except Salman has a more buffed and tweaked body.

The film is studded with so many fleeting and clear references to a string of old Hindi films that it is not possible to list them all. But here is one that might have ring some bells for some when they watch Dabangg. This happens in the second half of the film when Salman jumps from a police jeep and instructs his team: “Motewale us taraf, patlewale us taraf aur fitwale meri taraf.” This line is clearly inspired by that famous Asrani scene in Sholay where he instructs “Adhe udhar jao, adhe udhar jao aur baaki mere pecche aao.”

The film is also inspired by some new Bollywood films and the one that comes to mind is Bunty Aur Bubli and I think there is a clear reference to it in the film at one point. The other influence is from India’s heartland Uttar Pradesh, which appears to be the new “in” state for Bollywood.

And the Hollywood references? You can’t miss the obvious fight scene from Matrix. There are other Hollywood references in the way the fight scenes are choreographed that remind you of Prince of Persia, Spiderman and to that famous Chinese film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The Spanish guitar riffs and a some portions of the background score alternately reminded me of El Mariachi, Once Upon a Time in Mexico to Lord of The Rings.

Dabangg works only because of Salman Khan. You know that Salman Khan is in love with himself and that shows in every frame of the film. And then there is that constant undercurrent of mirth bubbling right underneath all his dialogs that makes you wonder when that punch line will be delivered. Salman knows how to play to the gallery and in this movie dishes it out in boatloads to them. And Salman is not known as the “shirtless wonder” for nothing. Just like Alfred Hitchcock made cameo appearance in every film Salman has to shed his shirt in every film but mercifully in Dabangg he does so only towards the end and it is confined to a few minutes.“Thanks god” there is no “shirtless” song in Dabangg.

Dabangg is clearly pitched to the masses and those who love masala films and one line dialogs accompanied by lots of fight scenes. The film appears to treasure style over substance in terms of a complex plot. The film is a clear departure from the crop of new Bollywood films that deal with the angst of the urban youth. Don’t expect to see an inspiring or moving story. This is a total masala formula film that manages to hold your interest for most part.

I wonder if the creators of the film have mentioned anywhere on the various inspirations that went into the making of Dabangg? I also wonder how much the director and writers were influenced by Quentin Tarantino’s style of filmmaking?  Taratino has made films inspired by the “masala” genre of Hollywood films.

I am curious to know what influences you spotted in Dabangg?

Director: Abhinav Kashyap Camera: Mahesh Limaye Editor: Pranav Dhiwar

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