Cast: Salman Khan, Sonakshi Sinha, Saiee Manjrekar, Kichcha Sudeep
Director: Prabhu Deva
Rating: 1.5 Stars (out of 5)
Director Prabhu Deva, enthused no doubt by the stellar presence of the film's trump card Salman Khan, crams Dabangg 3 with components that were put to the test in the previous two instalments of the franchise. Stale as these ingredients are, familiarity cannot but be reassuring for the fans of a Bollywood superstar who defies age and romances a debutante barely out of her teens. For all others, to put it mildly, an overwhelming sense of ennui is inevitable as the film lurches from set piece to another.
The law of diminishing returns kicks in rather quickly in this revenge saga because the scattershot concoction that is rustled up around the lead actor's rakish ways is unbearably hackneyed. But that, needless to say, is only if you aren't an inveterate Salman Khan loyalist in whose eyes star power ranks way above narrative cohesion.
In Dabangg 3, Chulbul Pandey takes charge of a police station in the town of Tundla, Uttar Pardesh, as an assistant superintendent of police. His first raid is on a wedding party that's been attacked by an armed gang of robbers - the long drawn out fight sequence, referred to in the credits as "introduction scene", has been choreographed by Vijayan while all the other action scenes have been credited to Anl Arasu. Not only does our Robin Hood have to contend with criminals desperate to see his back but also teach his treacherous stepbrother Makkhan Chand Pandey (Arbaaz Khan) a thing or two about being on the right side of the law.
Not much separates the hero's exploits from his antics - in fact, one often feeds off the other - and Salman appears to clown around with abandon even when he - and the film - are seeking to attain a level of solemnity. The momentum-breaking songs do not help matters. They only extend the film's length and slow it down. The comic scenes, awkward and poorly written, are even worse.
The climax of Dabangg 3 is staged in an abandoned mine presumably owned by the villain, Bali Singh (Kichcha Sudeep), where humans and machines are indiscriminately blown to smithereens by a very, very angry Chulbul Pandey before he draws his principal adversary into a bloody duel aimed at avenging the killing of a girl the protagonist was in love with once upon a time (more on that later).
Like its baddie, who radiates malevolence with unbridled glee, this film has no redeeming qualities. Dabangg 3 is a sky-high trash heap that, unmindful of its putridity, fancies its chances of being mistaken for a mountain.
In one scene, Chulbul says jocularly: "Hum class aur mass dono ke liye kaam karte hain." You snigger because, in a meta context, the line conveys ambition rather than conviction. Nothing in Dabangg 3 reflects any belief in classy, sensible storytelling. But even as a massy masala flick, it falls short. The dialogues, which gave the first Dabangg its thunder and heft, stray into infantilism far too often. So, we have Chulbul delivering lines like "Chamche ho, ab clear karo teaspoon ho ke tablespoon ho" or "Hum unhi ko thokte hain jo zaroorat se zyada bhonkte hain" or, and this is the absolute pits, "Tumra bhai hamara ghar toda hum tumhara sar todega". Well, well, do not break your head trying to suss what is going on because that is obviously the last thing the makers of Dabangg 3 want you to do.
Brimming with action, music and pulpy punchlines, this is an unabashed potboiler that delivers neither a bang for the buck nor recaptures the comic energy that shone through in the first two outings. The drab storyline scrapes the bottom of the genre barrel despite an effective performance from Kannada megastar Sudeep, playing an embodiment of pure evil and holding his own in a film in which Salman dominates every single frame, sometimes to his own detriment.
Dabangg 3 provides fans of the franchise exactly what they are looking for - the lovable crime-buster who does not shy away from bending the rules when faced with situations and people that are tricky and spell trouble. The liberties he takes, the one-liners he spouts and the swag he injects into the policeman act lend the film its superficial gloss. That is all a Salman Khan movie usually needs in order to send his fan base into raptures. Here, there's grave doubt.
While Chulbul goes about his job, which involves among other things rescuing trafficked damsels from the clutches off a woman who thinks she can get away with murder but finds her pride badly dented by Chulbul, the film packs into its two-and-a-half-hour expanse umpteen songs, including one that has Salman swaying to the beats of Munna badnaam hua in the company of Warina Hussain and Prabhu Deva, fights that the hero wades into in solitary splendour and always emerges from sans a scratch on his body, and stray social messages: anti-smoking, anti-dowry and pro-water conservation. This is Bollywood CSR at work but it's so shoddy that it unlikely to cause so much as a ripple.
The film pulls out the stops to tell us why the protagonist, now every inch a family man who is devoted to his doting wife Rajjo (Sonakshi Sinha), favours unconventional methods to punish and reform criminals. Dabangg 3 is a prequel of sorts presenting an origin story that traces the transformation of a village wastrel named Dhaakad Chand Pandey into a tough cop forsworn to eradicating crime.
It takes us back to his first love, Khushi (debutante Saiee Manjrekar), a rustic belle who attracts the unwanted attention of the baddie. That triggers a bitter, tragic confrontation between the hero and the antagonist. The former loses a dear one and finds a mission in life. But The film never stops meandering.
The clash between Chulbul Pandey and the bad guy pans out along familiar lines, with Sudeep lending the face-off a degree of novelty. But that is anything but enough for a film that is this turgid and bloated. Dabangg 3 is an all too formulaic one-way street that holds no surprises at all. It goes nowhere we haven't been before.