You see where I'm going with this?
Dabangg 2 is no more and no less than a copy that is not as crackling or creative as the original. I love the first Dabangg (writeup here), much to my surprise, but somehow this one just did not have the same strut despite trying very hard to have exactly the same strut (summarized with perfect succinctness by Aniruddha Guha in DNA), complete with the familiar music and dance moves, known faces, and in-story audience egging it on. I don't know if that's because it's so similar that it felt like an uninspired repetition or if this particular province of Salmanistan is not a place I really need to revisit, preferring to leave my happy memories of the first trip unperturbed.
Before the Bhai-tards feel it necessary to threaten me with rape in my own comment section for not saying 110% positive, all-caps-y things about 110% of the aspects of this film (as one of them has done two at least two female writers), let me just state clearly that I do not dislike Dabangg 2. It is a perfectly enjoyable in its own particular and expected way, often funny, occasionally sweet, and never challenging way to spend an evening. Wait, why am I bothering? Do Bhai-tards—SRK nuts, Kaka cuckoos, etc.—actually read? Anyway.
Writer Dilip Shukla, who also did the first Dabangg, really flubs two characters who should have been significant but end up wet noodles not worthy of being in a movie like this. Sonakshi Sinha's Rajo is a pouty, pointless housefrau who adds nothing to the story or even the overall vibe of the film. Being easily irritated by basically nothing and then easily placated by is not the same thing as a personality for a grown woman. The only other female character who has more than one scene, a random young bride-to-be (Sandeepa Dhar), is even more the standard-issue object of villainy.* Why are these characters even in the movie, except to be the medium through which the villain pisses off the hero? Watering down Rajo makes Dabangg 2 even more pathetic when it comes to female characters and even presence of women than the first one (which was my only significant problem with it), despite two competent item girls who in their songs contribute way more to the film than Mrs. Chulbul. At some level, though, I'm glad Rajo at least reappears, simply because I appreciate the attempt to provide continuity with the first installment (unlike the Munnabhais, where the darling wife from the first seems in the second never to have existed) and, more importantly, to keep this facet of Chulbul's emotional life intact. With the exception of his bonding with his step-father, Chulbul's love stories (wife, brother) seem perfunctory.
And Prakash Raj's villain. Man, what a waste of an actor who deserves a much juicier role than this one.** Since a hero is only as good as the villain he opposes—and I think it was in this podcast about Magadheera that Sujoy reminded me of that important tenet of crafting stories—Chulbul was done serious disservice by the writing of Bachcha. Specifically, I wonder if distributing the political, moral, and physical evil across the three brothers was a mistake, especially as none of them proves brilliant or scheming. They're just cardboard bad. There is nothing about Bachcha and his crew that is remotely dangerous to Chulbul outside of his duty to community safety and security, which is why we only get the slow-mo run of anger when things gets personal. It might also be why Salman's shirt is torn off by the guy he's fighting instead of whipped off by the winds of righteousness as in the first film. I'm sorry, but that is so not as cool.
Chulbul and his step-dad are the highlights of the movie for me. To his credit Salman seems to have fun doing this film, mostly by reliving the first one. He's strut-Miss-Lizzie-ing with himself in a pocket mirror (that could be the signature non-dance move in Dabangg 3). I liked him most in the self-image-teasing "Pandey Jee Seeti" and some of the choicer one-liners to criminals or his police posse, and the adorable little embarrassed or blushing chuckle.*** Vinod Khanna's role is as disposable as any of the others, but the son and new dad scenes are warmer than any of the other family interactions (despite tears shed over flashbacks to badly behaving Makhanchan from the original)—and as a big fan of Vinod I indulged in imagining the film back in time 35 years with him as Inspector Tight Pants, playing pranks on Pran or Iftekhar. When Inspector Amar walloped Anthony in the street, he definitely would have bounced off the ground just like Chulbul's victims.
It's almost as though the filmmakers decided that their approach to "variation on a super-duper successful theme" was to amp it down, but, in this case, somehow less is not more. I respect that they didn't ramp things up further (louder, grosser, deadlier), and I wouldn't say Dabangg 2 is exactly resting on its laurels. Mostly I want to send the script back to the drawing board, cutting out things like Makhanchan's love life and that tepid love song that puts Chulbul and Rajo on a road trip to a patisserie, and focus instead on ensuring Rajo has a glimmer of her former personality and giving Chulbul the arch-villain he deserves, someone worthy of his power and style. Everyone says, and I can easily accept as true, that as far as the box office goes, trifling details like plot and characterization and pacing don't matter when Salman Khan is fronting a near-duplicate of one of his own blockbusters. But I wonder if our future selves, who have the luxury of not worrying about the film's finances, will agree. In ten years, is this going to be the Salman Khan film we love to re-watch, or will Dabangg 2 wind up as an also-made, sandwiched between the actual glee of its predecessor and Wanted and the so-bad-we-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it-actually-exists Veer?
* At some point I will snap and write an indignant letter-to-the-editor style missive raving on about how the people who make southie-style masala should just stop this weak facade of pretending the heroines are actual people and simply make them bags of cash with a rupee sign painted on them, like from an old-time-y wild west matinee short, and be done with it.
** Was Prakash Raj dubbed by someone else for this film? His voice doesn't sound like I remember, and there's something not exactly right about the way his words sound when compared with what his face looks like.
*** Because of this laugh, I started calling him Inspector Muppet Chuckle in my head, just like I called him Inspector Tight Pants in the first film. Seriously, he sounds endearingly just like Ernie.