Is there anybody out there who hasn't seen " Dabangg"? Seems unlikely. For, according to trade pundits, the film has now entered the hallowed portals of the Bollywood box office greats as the seventeenth highest grossing film of all times. Its dream run includes people who have seen it twice, some even thrice.
The top grosser list sees it sharing space with some of the industry's biggest success stories which include films like "Mother India", "Mughal-e-Azam", "Sholay", "Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge", " Ghajini" and " 3 Idiots". Incidentally, this happens to be the fourth blockbuster in gilt-edged list that features Salman Khan as the hero. The other three are "Maine Pyar Kiya", "Hum Aapke Hain Kaun" and "Kuch Kuch Hota Hai", where Salman merely had a cameo role.
The success of "Dabangg" (Rs 116 crore) has come as a breather to an industry that has been gasping for breath for the last few months. Almost all the small films released between a handful of biggies ("Rajneeti", "Once Upon A Time in Mumbaai") have met an instant death. "Tere Bin Laden" and "Peepli Live" were the only recent low budget films to walk away with accolades — and moolah — at the box office. Even the Karan Johar production, "We Are Family", has had an average run with a total net gross of Rs 20 crore, say trade watchers.
So why has "Dabangg" managed to mesmerise the Indian viewer despite its accent on inanity and its complete incoherence in terms of plot and credibility? Industry experts would like to ascribe its allure to the star charisma of Salman Khan, who has managed to carry off the over-the-top articulation of Chulbul Pandey with unbridled enthusiasm and zeal. But for most of the urban viewers, it's the comic book flavour of the film which has worked as the perfect stress buster, bringing back memories of the Manmohan Desai brand of cinema where — brothers and lovers — got lost and found, all the span of a breathless three hours of song, dance and total make-believe.
According to producer Arbaaz Khan, the secret of "Dabangg" lies in its treatment. "From the very beginning, we were clear about what we wanted", he says. "We never attempted to make a "Taare Zameen Par", nor planned to make an intellectually stimulating film. All we said was: come and enjoy yourself!" The debut film maker's mantra of cinema is simple. "You can either have nothing to say and yet have people flocking in the auditorium or you can have lots to say with nobody coming in to watch your film. Haven't films like " Avatar" and "Indiana Jones" been bigger hits than "Schindler's List"?" he asks.
For Salman Khan, the success of "Dabangg" has meant a reiteration of his belief in a certain brand of cinema that transcends all divides. "I have always maintained that there is no difference in the multiplex and the single-screen audience; between the cosmopolitan and the small town viewer; between the so-called masses and the classes. And "Dabangg" lives up to my belief.