Telugu cinema phenomenon Pawan Kalyan is keen on convincing the rest of India that if Rajikinanth can, so can he. The 44-year-old superstar’s late entry into the Hindi-speaking world is through a dubbed version of his latest movie Sardaar Gabbar Singh. A Sholay-inspired sequel to Gabbar Singh (2012), which was an official remake of Dabanng (2010), the new seriocomic action adventure features Kalyan in familiar mode – as hero of the masses, chick magnet, and one-man army.
Posted in Rattanpur, which is ruled by the cruel Bhairo Singh (Sharad Kelkar), police officer Gabbar (Kalyan) doesn’t immediately reveal the terror that he is to the underworld. Gabbar has already displayed his ability to single-handedly dispatch extras in slow motion, and when he reaches Rattanpur, it is expected that he will liberate the town from Bhairo’s mining mafia.
Instead, Gabbar romances the local princess Arshi (Kajal Aggarwal) and regularly fails to impress her minder (Mukesh Rishi) about his true merits. Meanwhile, Bhairo lays eyes on Arshi and decides to make her his second wife, which is strange. The two have always lived in the town that is modelled on the dust-laden outposts featured in American Westerns, but it is only after Gabbar enters the picture that Bhairo develops the hots for Arshi. Kelkar has a nothing role to work with, but at least the handsome actor gets the feudal overlord’s body language right.
Bhairo’s adversary is a true Renaissance Man. Gabbar is samurai warrior, martial arts expert, cowboy, vigilante cop and Marvel-type superhero all rolled into one. What he doesn’t know is the meaning of the word delegation. Gabbar trains his posse to aim right, but when it comes to fending off Bhairo’s goons, who regularly show up to have their dental work rearranged, he works alone.
Every action-heavy moment, set to deafening background music, is intended to project the star’s general awesomeness, but audiences who are not clued into the ecology of images that surrounds Kalyan will remain unimpressed. Rajinikanth’s genius lies in the fact that he has been able to build a fan base that reaches far beyond followers of Tamil cinema. Rajinikanth’s inherent ability to woo the camera makes even the silliest of stunts believable and enjoyable.
But the source of Kalyan’s appeal will remain obscure for the intended audiences of the dubbed version. Kalyan’s insouciant delivery style, characteristic strut and capitalised cool, and limited dancing skills are showcased in scene after scene. While his massive fan base might have to be carried out of the cinemas in paroxysms of delight, the dubbed version makes no attempt to connect with potential new admirers.
The main culprit is the creaky good-versus-evil plot that is straight out of the 1980s. Hindi film lovers nostalgic for simpler times in which the hero was uncomplicated, the heroine was a glamour doll who never repeated a costume, a kiss was as momentous as a peace deal in Syria, and the villain was coal-black will be at home with Sardaar Gabbar Singh. Audiences who cannot relate to the realism that is slowly taking over vast sections of Hindi cinema might welcome this return to basics, but they need a better scripted movie to transfer their attentions to an unknown face.
Apart from Devi Sri Prasad’s foot-tapping score and the mostly flat comic routines, the movie’s main selling point is the action. The fight sequences by Ram-Laxman rely on wirework and slo mo, and since Kalyan doesn’t possess the imposing physique of the average male action hero, the stunts are risible. Since most of them are rendered in a comedic register, so Gabbar’s fighting skills remain open to debate.
Kalyan, who has written the movie, doesn’t only want to please his fans. He appears to be campaign mode. In real life, Kalyan is also a politician and is the founder of the Jana Sena Party. Scenes in Sardaar Gabbar Singh stink of electioneering, such as the moment when Gabbar has his first real face-off with Bhairo’s men in the middle of the town square. The residents cheer, musicians perform and a background chant assaults the ear-drums as Kalyan takes on yet another role: future leader of the masses. Some of the dialogue is pure sloganeering: “The whole of India is my jurisdiction!” “I am alone and will go alone and be with the people!” At 163 minutes, then, Sardaar Gabbar Singh is one of the longest propaganda videos out there.