First and foremost, I would appeal to the present generation of ‘woke’ viewers to be a little kind to what is popularly known as the ‘masala’ genre. The ethos of Hindi cinema, in various ways, is firmly bound on such potboilers from the yore out of which a good number of films featured Salman Khan. Plus to give him some leeway, I would iterate how I had enjoyed Dabangg (2010) quite a lot. The setting and the plot might have been hackneyed but the making style was original. The lead character Chulbul Pandey whose quirky Robinhood persona was a welcome relief from the monotony and lack of creativity in the said genre. Soon, the second edition, Dabangg 2, surfaced, only to redo the very same gig of its prequel. The film scaled up the volume, got a starrier item number but only sans the crackling directorial vision of prequel. Clearly, appending Alia Bhatt’s recent quote, making a successful and acceptable film is a gargantuan task. The latest edition of the franchise, Dabangg 3 is a sequel that no one quite asked for. Helmed by Prabhu Deva, the film sees the lead characters return – minus their innate charm, style or originality – even in the smallest of quantities.

To anyone that is bothered, the nation’s beloved cop Chulbul Pandey (Khan) is now posted in a town called Tundla in Uttar Pradesh – which I assume borders with Bihar, going by the fluctuating accents. The town is a la la land in its own way because that is from where ministers and human trafficking kingpins operate. Prabhu Deva’s film kicks off with a tasteless action scene which goes on to strip all the attitude off Chulbul. From what I could make out, the latest version of the character is perhaps how I would have pictured the famous Indian comic character Shikari Shambu. His gait is clumsy, his smartness non-existence and his face so stiff. Add to it, he makes a fool of himself by dropping his pants, by making a bizarre butt cheek dance move and also by uttering punch lines which fizzle before they could land. Not only Chulbul, the usually poised, and brave Rajjo (Sonakshi Sinha) too sees a mega change in Dabangg 3. Of course, marriage and motherhood change women but Rajjo’s transformation is horrifying. We see those dance moves on men in Ganpati processions and not on a woman as graceful as her. (No, I am not pressing the bharatiya sabhyata button here. Not at all.) Besides that, I basically had a tough time noticing Sonakshi Sinha behind layers of makeup and a faux flower on her hair. And oh, Rajjo is also a legit damsel in distress nowadays.

Back to the men in Dabangg 3, Kiccha Sudeep’s Kali Singh has to be one of the most purposeless villains in Indian cinema history. He drinks, smirks, prays, kills and buries the corpses right in his courtyard. Kali Singh is a villain only because the film needs one. Written by Salman Khan himself, the story takes you to what looks like the early 2000s where Chulbul’s early life is in focus. He was in love with a village belle named Khushi (Saiee Manjrekar, easily the worst lead actress in any film this year). The girl wishes to be a doctor but does not believe in preparing for the entrance exams the way real, committed aspirants would do. Instead, she chooses to paint the village red with her ever-so-flying hair and occasional trips to the movies with a jaded-looking youngster who incidentally is Chulbul. Boldly enough, she makes her boyfriend pay up her fees in what appears to be a substandard private medical college. The character is so wooden in nature that even an actual teakwood furniture piece would try and express itself better in comparison. It does not really matter that the men around her (the hero and the villain) believe in moving every muscle on their faces. The body muscle bit is taken care of by the VFX team who are their tacky best – perhaps because the raw material was such.

There is no screenplay behind Dabangg 3, to begin with. Whatever exists seems to be rambled over by someone with a serious obsession for (literal) toilet wit. There is even a strange shot where Chulbul is seen to look at undie-clad children on television, trying to copy their dance moves. The film also wants to assert women empowerment and anti-dowry messaging but the camera leaves no opportunity to zoom into to the leading ladies’ waists and midriffs like a creepy voyeur. Characters are made to turn from good to bad and back without any pretexts. If at all you attempt to connect the dots, Dabangg 3 does not let you because there is another action sequence waiting to be shown. In fact, the film feels more like quick alternations between a series of shoddily orchestrated action pieces and equally listless songs. There are occasions where songs pop up seconds after moments of high trauma or tension. Characters who were deeply distressed a few minutes back are now in a hypnotic state where they consume intoxicants and go totally nuts.

Dabangg 3 also wants to be humorous. If the aforementioned poo-pee jokes are cringe as hell, the film’s attempt to make grown-up men gyrate to certain yesteryear hits is worse. There is another yawn-inducing one involving Chulbul’s mother (Dimple Kapadia, balancing universes between Tenet and this) – a humour variant that perhaps existed from the time of cinema’s inception.

In short, Dabangg 3 is an unevenly packed array of action scenes, songs and comedy bits which do not sync at any point. Instead, it gives rise to boredom – which is unusual of a Salman Khan feature. His films can be bizarre and unintentionally hilarious (Race 3) but the sight of his fans leaving the cinema midway is not what his legacy is all about. I am not even questioning the existence of mammoth festival film that is meant to showcase his superstar prowess. Just that there is little effort from the star’s part to be perceived as an entity worth worshipping. The makers, on their part, simply play along and the product – or rather the residue – is not what any party would have wanted a slice of. Prabhu Deva’s lack of proficiency in the Hindi language is evident as several of the dialogues refuse to take off. The flavour is noticeably that of a dated Tamil film, so are the theatrics, the song situations, the female characters and the milieu. At one point you realize how Dabangg 3 refuses to offer guilty pleasure even. Unfunny, disjointed and excruciatingly boring, this Salman Khan-starrer is easily the worst mainstream Hindi film of 2019.

Rating: ★

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