Indians love hot, spicy food. And they love their ‘spicy’ movies even more. I’m talking about the red-hot, entertaining, leave-your-brains-at-home potboilers. Or, the Masala Movie. They are genre-benders – epic-like they have a bit of comedy, loads of drama, action set-pieces and heart-thumping music accompanied with energetic, pelvic-paralyzing choreography. To give another food-related analogy, masala movies are not unlike the Indian thali (or platter) with a mix of hot, sweet, sour and spicy tastes. And these have been the Bollywood staple for decades. In the pre-multiplex era, these escapist fares with tales about long lost brothers, feuding families and star-crossed lovers, were eagerly awaited by audiences. People would book tickets weeks in advance to watch the antics of the swash-buckling hero, who could fight and triumph over 20 men, unarmed, with not so much as a bead of sweat staining his brow. The audience would break into spontaneous applause when he delivered his flamboyant dialogues. And every time an “item number” – read: the mandatory sexy song and dance routine done by a ravishing bimbette – played out on the silver screen, there was dancing in the aisles of the theatre, accompanied by showering of coins.
But the sheen of these extravagantly shot and curiously scripted wonders, with their mind-boggling and logic-defying twists and turns, have been somewhat tarnished. As multiplexes mushroomed all over the cities, smaller indie-style films became the rage. These movies were more grounded in reality – but could not altogether do away with the song-and-dance routine – and appealed to middle class urban movie buffs. It seemed as if the age of the grandiose masala movie had passed. And then, along came Dabangg, a movie that was aimed at shoring up the declining fortunes of one of Bollywood’s ageing superstars, Salman Khan. Teaming up with debutant director Abhinav Kashyap, Khan was keen on reviving the old-world magic of the Bollywood masala movie. Not surprisingly, it was packaged to showcase the enormous “star” potential of Khan, a newbie lead actress Sonakshi Sinha – who was not just another newbie but had the right credentials, being the daughter of an erstwhile superstar Shatrughan Sinha) – and had a script that was written to deliver cliche after masala movie cliche.
Dabangg goes retro from the opening scene. Straight into a story about the conflict between two step-brothers that plays out to a predictable happy ending of family reunion. Forget about a ‘character arc’ for the protagonist or ‘raising of stakes’ and ‘increasing jeopardy’. The only jeopardy is faced by the antagonists. Ironically, while the lack of a powerful antagonist would typically make for a weak story, in the masala movie, the focus is on making the hero/protagonist shine at every step. And Khan delivers what the audience expects. Big time. Crude jokes, action-packed scenes where his six-pack (or is it eight?) abs are displayed to perfection and even the tear-jerking moment of the beloved mother succumbing to an inglorious death are played out as per the formula. And yet, it’s not as if there is nothing new about the whole package. For one, at 2 hours, it’s an hour shorter than the typical masala movie. And this gives it an added punch; the masala moments come in rapid-fire succession, giving audiences their money’s worth. The scenes are better written; the style is crackling and it shows that the screenwriters know their craft – and have moulded it to suit the unique requirements of the masala movie. End result: more bang at the box-office as Dabangg turned out to be the highest-grossing movie of 2010.
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