Peter ‘Chulbul’ Pan Returns:
Rating: Two stars
Chulbul Pandey the comic-cop has become like the money kept under the mattress for emergencies; every time a few films come around that somewhat dim the star lustre of Salman Khan, a Dabangg movie can polish it again.
Because the first film released in 2010, directed by Abhinav Kashyap, set the character and the cheeky, parodic tone, the next two films slavishly rehashed the lines, songs and scenes, certain that audiences would be awash in nostalgia. Prabhudeva’s Dabangg 3, that offers a gratuitous Chulbul Pandey origin story in the first half, is so sure of the formula, that it does not even bother about a plot. It’s fight-song-dialoguebaazi in a loop.
There is a villain, whom Chulbul has to fight (the shirts have to be ripped off in the end!), so an ineffectual Bali Singh (Kichcha Sudeepa, better known as just Sudeep) growls around. Like every gangster, he has ministers and cops on his payroll, plus armies of henchmen, who run his illegal mining and flesh trade rackets.
Bali Singh existed in Chulbul’s past, when as young Dhakkad Pandey, he fell in love with Khushi (Saiee Manjrekar), only to have her snatched away by the villain, because he fancied her too. Khushi is the reason why he renamed himself Chulbul, wears his sunglasses at the back of his collar and a bead necklace around his neck. He would have been living happily with wife Rajjo (Sonakshi Sinha), his kid, father (Pramod Khanna replacing his brother, the late Vinod Khanna), and brother Makkhi (Sohail Khan), reforming bandits and organizing mass weddings, if Bali Singh had not resurfaced.
This time round, the dance numbers with hundreds of colour-coordinated extras look dated (surprisingly because the director is a dancer-choreographer too), the dialogue lacks punch, the fight scenes are boringly repetitive and the comedy never rises above toilet gags or juvenile tomfoolery.
Salman Khan puts in more energy and sincerity than the film deserves, and if it does well, it will be thanks to his fans, and viewers who still have fond memories of the original Dabangg. The film that allows the star to boast in this one: “Hum class aur mass, dono ke liye kaam karte hain.” That won’t be the case much longer if fresh ideas are not infused into the franchise. There are some cosmetic touches of wokeness – like Chulbul offering dowry to his bride for her medical education, and saying she need not change her surname after marriage. Then he nullifies it by adding that he will do her “rakhwali” (protection) till she finishes studying. There is also the mandatory ‘item’ number and both leading ladies wearing tantalizingly backless blouses. Film feminism does not go too far.