How does one explain the stupendous success of a film like Dabangg, which is a cross between a Dharmendra and a Rajnikant movie? Why has the Salman-starrer grossed more money than Aamir Khan’s Three Idiots and Prakash Jha’s Raajneeti, which have far superior content? What has endeared it to the urban multiplex audience despite being aimed at small-town India?
The answer lies in the fact that it is an unpretentious entertainer rooted in Indian reality, say directors Mahesh Bhatt and Sudhir Mishra. “Dabangg (fearless) reclaimed the space that Hindi films had ceded to Bhojpuri films because of the metro centric sensibility of Bollywood directors,” explained Bhatt.
Mishra, known for acclaimed films, such as Dharavi, Chameli and Hazaron Khwaishen Aisi said, “Our directors are living in their heads in America, they are ashamed of making Hindi films.” Big films, according to him, come from Indian reality “but of late, directors, who come from Bollywood families, have abdicated this space to small-town boys such as Vishal Bharadwaj, Raju Hirani and Anurag and Abhinav Kashyap.”
Bhatt said: “Just as Indian cinema was patting itself on its back for having grown up, the whole thing has been turned upside down!”
Explaining why the urban audience loved the film, Bhatt said: “The sophistication of our metro viewers is skin deep. Below the surface, we are all unabashed lovers of the mela, and this film has that carnival sensibility. It has met that elemental appetite.”
Alankrita Srivastava, Prakash Jha’s assistant, whose debut film, Turning 30, is under post-production, went to see Dabangg with her friends expecting nothing more than the filmi equivalent of a nautanki (folk theatre). “We went to be entertained by Salman Khan and he did not disappoint us,” she said. “Of course, there are gaps in the story and awkward moments in the film, but no one was looking for the negatives.”
“This is not my type of film, but I made an exception for Dabangg being a former Salman fan. His appeal lies in the fact that he retains that unaffected and unsophisticated character of a tapori (street side ruffian),” said Shrivastava.
Director Madhur Bhandarkar, who saw the film at Bandra’s Gaiety theatre, said Salman has struck a chord with the masses as well as classes with his uninhibited performance. “Fans went hysterical, clapping and whistling at Salman’s lines. The last films I saw getting such reaction were Gadar and Lagaan,” said the director, who shot to fame with Chandni bar.
Paying tribute to Salman’s prowess and as star, Bhatt said: “A weak character cannot carry a strong plot, but a strong character can carry a weak plot.” Indeed, even those, who panned the film, agreed that Salman has played the role of a corrupt but lovable cop with abandon.
The charm of the film was that it was an unapologetic and unabashed Salman starrer, which went the whole hog, said Mishra. Bhatt admired the single mindedness and audacity of the filmmaker, Abhinav Kashyap.
The pre-release publicity of the film and the fact that it delivered what it promised — a total Salman Khan experience — also played its part in Dabangg’s success, said Shrivastava.
However, film critic Deepa Gahlot does not think much of Dabangg and dismisses it “a jazzed-up B-grade Bollywood film, which Mithun Chakaraborty did by the dozen.” “It is only that this generation has grown up without watching such films.”
Bhatt and the other directors say the success of the film all over India shows that it has connected with the people. “It is very easy to fool the high-brow audience, but difficult to entertain the masses,” said Bhatt.