2010’s Dabangg was such a good time that it set a high bar for its sequel. Dabangg 2 is almost as much fun, but it inadvertently raises some ethical questions about heroism and modern systems of justice.
Salman Khan returns as Chulbul Pandey, a charming, unstoppable supercop. Having cleared his small hometown of criminals in the first movie, Pandey requests a transfer to the larger city of Kanpur. Almost immediately, he becomes a hero to the citizens of Kanpur and the nemesis of a local gangster and aspiring politician named Baccha (Prakash Raj).
The opening twenty minutes of the movie are amazing. Scenes from the original Dabangg play during the opening credits to bring the audience up to speed. Then Pandey beats up a warehouse full of goons before abruptly breaking into song. It’s an obvious rehash of the best sequence from the original film, but it’s just as enjoyable the second time.
Chulbul Pandey is far an away Salman Khan’s best character of recent years. Unlike many of his other action roles that take themselves deathly seriously, Khan gets to have fun with Pandey. He plays pranks on his father (played by Vinod Khanna), flirts with his wife, Rajjo (Sonakshi Sinha), and is adored by his fellow police officers, with whom he’s willing to share credit for his good deeds. In this role, Khan is — dare I say — kind of cute.
Sinha, reprising her role from the first film, is a drag. Though Pandey dotes on Rajjo like the newlywed he is, she spends the whole film either annoyed or depressed. She perks up for a few dance numbers, but that’s it.
Similarly useless is Pandey’s younger brother, Makhi, played by Khan’s younger brother (and the film’s director), Arbaaz. The younger Khan delivers his lines flatly, and a long-running gag about Makhi trying to solve a riddle doesn’t survive the translation from Hindi to English. I appreciate Arbaaz Khan’s contributions behind the camera more than his contributions in front of it.
The story is slow to get going. It’s obvious that there will eventually be a showdown between Pandey and Baccha, but Baccha doesn’t make any real threats against Pandey or his family until the mid-point of the movie. The climactic showdown is worth the wait.
The impetus for Baccha to act comes when Pandey brutally murders one of the bad guys in front of a crowd of people that includes his fellow police officers, rather than take the bad guy into custody. The story proceeds as though this is acceptable, and the morality of Pandey’s act is never discussed.
This is a problem because, until this point, Pandey is unquestionably virtuous. (I’m choosing to ignore his habitual thievery since he rarely steals from working-class people.) One of the gun-toting bad guys declares himself judge, jury, and executioner right before Pandey kills him, even though Pandey’s life isn’t in immediate danger. By ignoring the rules of democracy and bypassing the judicial system, how is Pandey any different from the man he kills?
Perhaps these are deeper questions than are supposed to be posed to a film about a guy who makes his entrance by driving a Jeep through a brick wall. Though the film is light on gore and skin, it’s not completely family friendly. In addition to Pandey’s morally troubling act, some of the brutality inflicted on his family is especially grim. After watching Dabangg 2, kids may have more questions for their parents than, “Did you see Salman hit that guy in the nuts with a pole?”