Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Dabangg: Zandu Balm for the Nation!



Among the recent crop of movies if there is one movie that is providing bang for the buck then it certainly has to be Dabangg. Purists of cinema as well as general public, all unanimously accept the fact that the movie is a smash hit purely because of the star power of its lead protagonist Salman Khan. Many might also snigger at the fact that in terms of opening week box office collections it has overtaken a movie like 3 idiots, a movie with a message to society whereas all that Dabangg does is glorify the hero and indulge in some mindless action and dance numbers, what one generally calls the Indian Masala movie.

It’s the return of the action hero, most proclaim. I only laugh at their ignorance.

It might sound like blasphemy to many if I say Dabangg overtakes 3 idiots in not just box office numbers but also in terms of message to society and its relevance. It’s more than coincidence that the movie also features a song that has the following lines mein Zandu Balm hui darling tere liye. Dabangg is certainly the Zandu Balm that this nation needed so desperately. Let me explain further.

Zandoowood!

Few months back I had written a post called Crocin, Vicks & Shahrukh Khan which speaks of the healing power of cinema. It could as well have been called Crocin, Vicks & Bollywood. Now along with Crocin and Vicks we have Zandu balm in the fray. 

In a country as vast as India with its countless dialects and regional customs there are multiple film industries thriving but if there is one thing that is common across the country then it is Bollywood. A Bollywood star is in a unique position to control the minds of the masses. The hero is mostly a reflection of our current society and a symbol of our aspirations. From the righteous hardworking citizen of the 50’s and 60’s to the angry young man of the 70’s and 80’s to the incurable romantics and yuppies of the 90’s and 2000’s, the heroes have always confirmed to a stereotype based on changes in the economic climate of the nation.

Someone else’s Hero

However in the last two decades or so our heroes have stopped being heroes for everyone, instead they have focussed on either the urban youth or the NRI audience based on the economic viability of projects. Our heroes no longer speak to the majority of the rural masses, which also explains why the action hero genre is almost dead in Bollywood now. One might argue that the action hero might be dead in Bollywood but is very much alive and kicking in a lot of other regional film industries. Almost every second movie that releases in the south is about the hero being invincible and bashing up goons by the dozen. Are these south heroes spreading a message of violence and retribution or is there something positive about it? 

Southern Super Heroes

Southern films in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malyalam have no dearth of heroes with Demi God status. In every other movie they seem to be taking on the responsibility of weeding out the anti social elements symbolised in entirety by a vicious villain, remember Ghajini? South films have far more demonic villains than any comic book creator could conjure up.

Talking of comics...

If the west has Superman, Batman, Spiderman and their ilk, then South India has Rajinikanth, Chiranjeevi, Balakrishna, Mammotty, Mohanlal, Pawan Kalyan, Mahesh Babu, Vijay, Surya, Puneeth  and many many more of their ilk.

Just like how Superman or Spiderman would play themselves in every movie, so do these stars repeat themselves playing the same characters again and again, mind you, they are no ordinary heroes, they are all super heroes. Most often there is a very strong message behind every movie of this genre and behind all the flying stunts and mindless bashing lies a heart. 

What we call as overdose of Masala movies is in fact peppered with enough morals that the Masala would never cause us any indigestion. 

The takeaway message from the first Spiderman movie is “With great power comes great responsibility.” This is a phenomenon which has been well understood and accepted by heroes down south. Unfortunately these heroes are superheroes only in their native states and the rest of the country is mostly ignorant about their presence. This is where their Bollywood counterparts have an edge.

Back to the idiots

As I mentioned at the start, Dabangg is a movie that treads the path of these masala movies from the south. And yes, it also has many messages to pass on to the society. Unlike a 3 idiots which goes on to become preachy about its message Dabangg has lots to say but camouflages it beautifully into the narrative.

Most educated people like you and me will fail to see the messages as we are already bombarded with an information overload. We are too smart to even consider any of the messages relevant to us. In fact even I didn’t realize this fact till my wife pointed this out to me, she shook me out of my arrogance, and am thankful to her for doing that to me.

Coming back to messages, in one of my earlier post ‘When fiction meets reality- part 02’ I said that 3 idiots was a movie made 15 years too late. Urban India has advanced much beyond that. In the same post I also mentioned that if real change in the country has to occur then we need to look at our roots and look at real problems. Unfortunately mainstream media is averse to catering to this demographic, any movie that tends to deal with real issues of non urban India tends to get branded as an art film and rarely has an audience. This is where the uniqueness of Dabangg lies.

Bang On!

On first looks Dabangg is a routine action masala entertainer but scratch the surface a little deeper and you will see layers of brilliance. Technically there is a certain textural, audio visual consistency in the movie which shows the commitment of the production house and the talent and skill of the director and rest of the technical crew.

Leaving apart the technical front, the characterization of Chulbul Pandey is bang on and through him we experience the movie. He highlights many issues in the movie without being preachy at any point of time. Here is a list of a few of them, am assuming most of you have already seen the movie so am also assuming whatever I mention below won’t be a spoiler to you. 

  • Channelizing Anger: As a child the hero has issues with his family and his anger is channelized into becoming a police officer instead of becoming a ruffian which would have been an easier thing to do.
  • Familial bonding: Even though the brothers are not on talking terms, when Chulbul notices that his brother is mingling with anti social elements, he shows great concern leaving aside all differences, remember the cell phone scene after he notices Makhi with Cheddi Singh. Also the way Chulbul interacts with his mother and the way he finally reconciles with his stepfather shows that family is meant to be treasured and grudges are irrelevant and inconsequential.
  • Drunkards: Heroine’s father is a useless alcoholic depending on his children for money, this is the most common scene one would witness in the lower strata of society. This issue is shown with great sensitivity through the eyes of the daughter and finally culminates with the scene near the lake.
  • Procrastination: Early to bed and early to rise, Chulbul wakes up early and is shown to be fit whereas his brother is the anti thesis to this, in his introduction scene he is shown in deep slumber without a care in this world. Also in another classic scene Chulbul while chasing the goons says to his policemen “Mote vale ustaraf, Patle vale istaraf aur fit wale mere peche” only to notice that no one is left behind him. An extremely comic moment but look at the irony behind that, it’s every bit the truth in reality.
  • Munni’s of society: Munni is probably the most popular name in India today, thanks to the famous Zandu Balm song. But if one notices, at the end of the song Chulbul says to Munni, “Munni ab tum apne Munne ke pass chele jaao”. Munni leaves with a concerned but thankful expression. Goes on to highlight that she isn’t doing all this song and dance for fun, but to feed her family. Another social ill of the society.
  • Polio: We have seen countless campaigns on Polio but probably the most effective in times to come would be the one line uttered by Chulbul which he says to the heroine’s brother when he comes to know that he has polio. He simply asks “Do boond pilaya nahi kya”. He hits the nail on the head.
There are many more Bang On moments in the film, but I wish to end my list here, else I can keep on going with it. And for those who say that the movie is violent in providing solutions I would like to point this out.

To remove a tumor in our body we need to go under the surgeon’s knife, what are a few punches after all to weed out social ills.

And yes, I hear there is going to be a sequel to Dabangg, while most wonder what new stunts Salman would come up with, I wonder what new messages he would highlight this time. It’s time we rediscovered our Superheroes and Dabangg sets a great precedent for many more socially relevant entertainers which cater to the people that really matter to our country. 

(This post has been developed out of discussions with and insights from Anuradha Mothali) 

Till then,
Cheers!!!
Kartik Dayanand Boddapati

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