Review: DABANGG 2 Is Not Even The Best Salman Khan Film of 2012
I want to be up front about the fact that I'm not the biggest fan of the first Dabangg film. I thought it was decent, but having seen other more innovative and exciting masala films both before and after, I really didn't find it to be the game changer that everyone else did. However, I recognize its importance and the fact that I'm in the minority. Dabangg did a lot of things right, it placed focus on the action, it didn't force Salman Khan to act too much, and it had one really catchy song, Munni Badnam Hui. What it didn't have was a terribly compelling story, and that's where it lost me. All purpose pan-Indian villain for hire, Sonu Sood, was pretty solid as Chedi, the main baddie, but even he wasn't able to elevate the material as much as it needed to be truly great.
Fast forward two years and we find Salman Khan's Chulbul Pandey moved to a newer, bigger town, away from the original's rural roots, and firmly entrenched with a family and a desire to do good. When Chulbul Pandey's do-gooder ways find him in hot water with local bigshot gangster, Baccha (Prakash Raaj), he is suddenly in the middle of a fight not only for the city, but also for his family's safety. The stakes are raised, the villain is even nastier, and the jokes are hokier, but can Dabangg 2 match the success of its predecessor? I wouldn't count on it.
Dabangg 2 suffers from several fatal problems, the most pressing of which is the lack of style thanks to the flat, uninspired direction of Arbaaz Khan. I didn't walk into the film expecting a lot of visual flair, Salman Khan films typically try not to make him look any more stiff by adding lots of zooms and pans, but this was was particularly boring to look at. Even the extended action sequences, made interminably long by overuse of Zack Snyder-esque slo-mo, aren't really that exciting to look at. When you can't make three guys getting blown out three windows look interesting, it may be time to figure out what's going on. It isn't just the action that falls flat, lots of the film is just boring to look at. The framing is boring, the lighting is boring, the costumes are, for the most part, boring, and the moments that really zing visually are all reserved for the songs, which are typically not directed by the film's main director.
When you add the flat direction to the continued insistence of filmmakers that people want to see Salman Khan dancing, it's a lethal combination. Sallu's got two left feet, and they are both ridiculously overmuscled, making him look like he's having back spasms more of the time. Khan has never been a great dancer, but as his bulk has grown over the last ten years or so, his flexibility has decreased and he just looks ridiculous. There's nothing wrong with letting other people dance in your movies, Aamir Khan does it all the time, I think it's time for Salman to hang up his dancing shoes, and if he can convince Ajay Devgan to do the same in the process, all the better. I hate deducting points just for dancing, but for Christ's sake, it's painful to watch.
I think that it's telling that none of the actors really excels in their roles enough for me to point out their successes or failures. Salman remains stiff as a board, with the occasional joke thrown in to humanize him. Sonakshi Sinha reprises the role that made her famous and manages to do even less with it than she did the first time around. The only person who really shines, and only just barely, is the eminently trustworthy Prakash Raaj, playing a role he's played a thousand times before, including in the above-mentioned Singham.
Salman Khan has two major releases in 2012, this film and July's Ek Tha Tiger, and it is the latter film which carries the distinction of being the better of the two by far. Where Ek Tha Tiger managed to embrace Khan's personal brand of machismo and work with his acting style and ability to make an experience that was both traditionally masala and still anchored in the modern world, Dabangg 2 ditches that contemporary feel and settles for more of the same. While there's no doubt in my mind that Dabangg 2 will rake in the dough, it'll be in spite of its quality and not because of it.