Nine years ago, director Abhinav Kashyap persuaded Salman Khan to play a parodic version of himself. The action comedy Dabangg created one of Khan’s most endearing characters – the suave and charming rogue cop Chulbul Pandey, who was deft with both punches and punchlines. The sequel, made by Salman Khan’s brother Arbaaz Khan in 2012, had little new to contribute to Chulbul’s khaki cool, but said it with enough confidence to pass muster.
Dabangg 3, directed by Prabhudeva, is the origin story of Chulbul Pandey that nobody asked for but was given anyway. The movie takes a ‘best-of’ approach and rehashes lines and moments from the previous productions, and the result is about as rivetting as Chulbul’s secrets.
We find out what Chulbul’s real name is, the reason he wears his eyeshades on the back of his shirt collar, and the source of the infamous line about perforating the body with numerous holes. We also learn that before Chulbul met and married Rajjo (Sonakshi Sinha), he loved Khushi (Saiee Manjrekar), though just how this contributes to Chulbul’s evolution apart from giving him something new to do the third time round is never clear.
Chulbul has been posted in a no-name town, where he has little to do except hone his newfound love for women’s empowerment. Chulbul is now an avowed feminist, rescuing girls from a sex trafficking ring, advising women against changing their surnames after marriage, and giving rather than demanding dowry. Chulbul’s actions bring him in the crosshairs of Bali (Sudeep), who turns out to be an old adversary from his hidden past.
When a movie sets the bar so low for itself, who are we to interfere? Dabanng 3, based on a story by Khan (he has also contributed to the screenplay), makes Tubelight look inspired and gives Race 3 the stature of a neglected gem. Mind-numbingly long at 162 minutes and disjointed throughout, Dabangg 3 never does the work needed to justify its existence. The humour is as scarce as logic in a Salman Khan movie, and the scenes are arranged with the tidiness of bogies in a train-wreck.
The tedium never lets up, and the heavily advertised dust-up between Chulbul and Bali is drowned in slow-motion and obvious wirework. Chandeliers tremble and baddies scatter as Chulbul makes his entrance, but the bells and whistles cannot conceal just how slowly Khan moves and how much heavier and lumbering he has become in recent years.
Most of the cast takes its cue from its leading man and turns out amateurish and forgettable performances. Only Sonakshi Sinha behaves with some dignity, even though Rajjo has little to do but blush in Chulbul’s presence and cavort around with him in the placeholder songs.
The only truly bizarre moment is the actor recruited to portray Chulbul’s father Prajapati. Vinod Khanna, who played Prajapati in the previous movies, passed on before he could return to the role. The character is now portrayed by Vinod Khanna’s real-life brother Pramod. There is a resemblance between the siblings and little else. Just as Pramod Khanna attempts to imitate his brother, Khan too tries to summon the spirit of Chulbul Pandey from the previous Dabangg films. Dabangg 3 isn’t funny or even campy enough to be anything more than an aging hero’s throw of dice, hoping that third time will be as lucky as the first two.