Director: Prabhu Deva
Cast: Salman Khan, Sonakshi Sinha, Kichcha Sudeep, Saiee Manjrekar
If Dabangg was an excitable child and Dabangg 2 was an impressionable teenager, Dabangg 3 is the insecure adult that is neither excitable nor impressionable but keeps dancing alone at weddings to prove he once was. Salman Khan's return in the famous figure-hugging police uniform is derivative at its best and unnecessary at its worst. Inspector Chulbul Pandey was the first mover of a new-age cop-action genre now overpopulated with Singhams and Simmbas. In Dabangg 3, the strain – to remind moviegoers of this exalted status – is too visible.
Everything about this sequel is designed to demand the fan's loyalty and reflect past glories. For instance, the self-reverence is doubled: Khan hums songs from the previous films, clumsily embraces the selfie culture, shakes a leg (sort of) with director Prabhu Deva, and even scripts (Khan is credited as one of the screenplay writers) an origin-story flashback that tells us why an ordinary loafer turned into Chulbul "Robin Hood" Pandey. Or in other words, why Salman Khan's is the only brand of legal vigilantism you should care for. It involves a girl named Khushi, a villain named Balli Singh (Kichcha Sudeep, invoking his inner Sonu Sood) and a tragedy that inspires a young Pandey to craft a convoluted revenge story. Never mind that, for two entire films, there was absolutely no hint of a traumatic past – they merely reiterated the perception that someone like Chulbul Pandey is too fictitious and flimsy to have a serious backstory. And for good reason. Most of it is tedious, the action is familiar and stale, the songs are tributes to the older songs, and the slow-motion shots are so slow that characters seem to age and conduct silent conversations while being suspended in mid-air. The only half-interesting aspect is that evil Balli buries dead bodies in his rose garden. There is no metaphor here.
But the insecurity of the franchise is most visible in its decision to make Dabangg 3 nothing but an extended montage of hero-entry moments: Khan enters in a bulldozer, on a bike, in a van, in a truck, on foot, from the sky. His legacy is based on this trademark scene (Wanted and Ek Tha Tiger did it well) and he knows it, but this film overkills the novelty of what is otherwise a quintessential Bollywood image. He keeps entering till the end credits. For a 163-minute movie, even cheap thrills can subside very fast. Especially if everyone – including Arbaaz Khan, Sonakshi Sinha and Uttar Pradesh – is on autopilot.
The other interesting aspect of Dabangg 3 is Chulbul Pandey's sudden role-model syndrome. Most everything he says is an advertisement of a life he wants his fans to embrace. For example, Pandey, now a happily married man with a son, is made to fight a breathless thug in the opening scene so that he can expound on the ill-effects of smoking and gutka. He drinks coconut water, eats watermelon and almonds in his spare time. He works out a lot. There are at least two Global Warming references. A one-liner goes: "I work for both the classes and the masses". His second action sequence involves saving a group of young girls from a sex-trafficking gang. In the flashback, young Pandey offers to pay dowry to the girl's family instead of the other way around – so that she can pursue her dreams of becoming a doctor, and he can be a house-maker. He also offers for her to not use his surname. The only time he is seen with a cigarette, the girl makes a face and he gives up the vice. In the final scene, he even scolds the villain for being a rapist and a killer. (To which the villain replies that he isn't a rapist. Go figure.)
In short, the film is relentlessly committed to progressive messages. Pandey exists to preach in Dabangg 3. Imagine if today's socially conscious Bollywood stars weren't around to teach us the difference between right and wrong. The country would have gone to the dogs.