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Chulbul khan

The first five minutes have flown by. His jeep’s broken through brick walls. His kicks have sent a few flying. And fatak! The frame freezes over. “Salman Khan as Chulbul Pandey”. The entire theatre orgasms. And noisily at that. This is not cinema as we know it. It’s a carnival out there; playing at a theatre near you.

Yes, Dabangg 2 is like a party celebrating the popularity and success of Dabangg. And that’s not entirely a bad thing. When you go back to a restaurant, you try a couple of new dishes sure but if it’s Peter Cat, you will have Chelo Kebab.

Taking over the directorial reins from Abhinav Kashyap, producer Arbaaz Khan keeps Chelo Kebab, and only Chelo Kebab, on the festival menu.

So you are served that promised plate with all the components. There’s the sunglass on the back collar, the squirmy jubilation jig, the ceetee-seducing dialoguebaazi, the desert romantic song, the branded item number.... Almost like a film made out of the outtakes of the first Dabangg.

But what part two lacks and lacks aplenty is the simmering sense of urgency, the niggling hint of tension, which gave the 2010 blockbuster its edge. Dabangg 2 is way too feel-good for its own good. Father’s a friend, brother’s an ally, wife isn’t playing games, Pandeyji is really vacationing in Kanpur.

The villain who does crop up, Bachcha Singh (Prakash Raaj), is more funny than ferocious and not a patch on the bloodthirsty Chhedi Singh. And just because it’s true for a Bond film, why should it not apply to Chulbul — the better the baddie, the better the film.

There’s a palpable desperation to arrive at the next high point, which is either another song or another action set-piece. Whenever there’s an effort to develop a plot or have some banter, Dabangg 2 hits a dull patch. But if just his belt can juggle the audience into hysteria, you can trust the man to get the groove back at will.

In the middle of all the Rs 100-200 crore tamasha, no one’s talking about the fact that in his almost 25-year career, this is Salman Khan’s first official sequel. Official because you can accuse him of having played the same character in many films.

But Chulbul Pandey aka Robin Hood Pandey and now Kung Fu Pandey(!) is such a distinct character designed by Abhinav Kashyap that to reprise it, even Salman has to be un-Salman at times.

He has so much fun being Pandeyji — and you can see that it in his face, in his eyes — that you cannot help but join the party. Watch him go up on stage and go berserk to Kaise bani phulauri bina chutney and then try and imagine any other superstar in the country even trying to pull that off.

And then when it comes to the big emotional scene, Salman doesn’t look away. He cries, then stops, thinking a Chulbul Pandey shouldn’t be crying, and then breaks down again. It may not be the greatest showcase of histrionics, but a whole lot of honesty. In close-up.

Like in the first film, Salman shares some of the best moments of Dabangg 2 with Sonakshi. She’s a softer Rajjo, more playful than aggressive. Vinod Khanna as the father is suddenly turned into the comic subplot, which is quite a downer actually. Deepak Dobriyal as the villain’s brother is the best dushtu lok of the lot. Munni makes an appearance but it is Bebo who gets the big ‘sticky’ item number, which as a result looks like a leftover song from Heroine. Pandeyji is a lot more fun while Dagabaaz re is clearly the pick of the lot. But why would Sajid-Wajid use preludes and hooklines of famous songs like Chalat musafir moh liya re and Main zindagi ka saath nibhaata chala gaya as interludes here is bit of a mystery.

A friend of mine in Mumbai got herself a Dabangg 2 ticket in Chandan cinema hall. “Salman Khan films can only be enjoyed in a single-screen theatre!” She was underestimating the power of Chulbul Pandey. Go watch the man turn multiplex into maachaa, popcorn into pakoda and keep you chipkaoed to your seatsfaavicol se.