Sultan week continues! Day 2, I’ve already talked about Salman as a widower, what relationship Sultan may have to Ali Abbas Zafar’s other films, and what connection it might have with previous Anushka performances. New topic: why a mustache?
Don’t worry, this is not the “real” Dabangg post. At some point I will watch that movie for the 500th time just to refresh my recollection, and then go through it point by point. This is just a post where I consider what it might be mean that Salman has similar facial hair in Dabangg and in the Sultan trailers as part of my Sultan week.
This might sound like nitpicking, thinking there is a similarity based simply on facial hair. But it is so important! Especially mustaches. They tell you that this hero is a little old-fashioned, a little macho. And they tell you that this movie will be a little old-fashioned as well.
In Dabangg, the mustache helped announce a new kind of Salman Khan. I just took a quick look at his filmography to remind myself of what he had been doing immediately prior. Yes, Wanted was in there, along with a few other action flicks, mixed in with romances and comedies, but there had been no cop films for a while (“cop” film meaning with him in uniform with underlings and a police station and all the other parts of standard cop movies from CID to Zanjeer), and no “mustache” performances.
His last big “cop” role, in Garv: Pride and Honor (which I just watched for the first time a few days ago), was more of a big city cop, dealing with international criminals and a whole police system with a hierarchy and so on. But Dabangg is old-school, in the best possible way. It is small scale villainy, on the ground evil, and our hero police officer is solving it in the same way, on the human level.
One of my favorite things about Dabangg is the very opening, when Salman dances with the bad guy as his cell phone starts up. Which is a clever gag, but it is also a sign that this is not a hero who sees himself as necessarily better than the “bad guys”. Yes, he tries to be a good person and to protect those under his protection, whether it is his mother or his fellow officers or, later, his younger brother. But he isn’t uppity about it. He has no problem dancing with the random low-level goon, or giving the money they raise to his lowest staff member. His whole performance feels like that, with a great mixture of serious effort to be dignified and responsible, and simple joy in humanity and his fellow humans bursting through.
Which brings me to the mustache. It’s a sign, for the character, he is in touch with the traditions of the police force and what people expect of a police officer in his town. He is proud of his mustache, just as he is proud of his identity as the best kind of old-school police officer. Not afraid to get down and dirty with the people of his town, criminals and victims alike, but with his own strong sense of morals.
And I like Dabangg because it feels like the movie as a whole isn’t afraid to get down and dirty. It has the most explicitly inter-caste relationship I can remember in recent times, and it even takes the time to mention the Polio vaccination efforts. And alcoholism, that’s in there too. Not in an irritating PSA kind of way, but as these issues effect the characters, as they might effect real people living in towns like this across India.
An arty movie would take these stories and try to make them “real” and “important”. What I love about Dabangg is that it takes these stories and manages to combine their “realness” with a sense of wonder and glamour and magic. Not so that they become more filmi, but so we the audience have a better sense of how they feel to the characters. It is this great balance of letting us see both what might be “really” happening and how it “really” feels to the people it is happening to. It’s also why “Tere Mast Mast Do Nain” is one of my all time favorite love songs.
In another, inferior, film, this would be a real fantasy number. They would be transported to Switzerland or somewhere to sing to each other on a mountain top. But instead, it shows us how you can be in the same familiar places, but it can feel like you are singing on a mountain top. I think my second favorite bit (after the hearts in the sunglasses bit which was so good they used it for the poster), is when he sees her in the market and walks to her with the flowers. The way Salman rolls his shoulders and holds out the bouquet, you can see that he is picturing himself in this huge romantic hero way. But we the audience can see that he is still just in a normal marketplace offering a normal bouquet of flowers, and then tripping and falling all over himself.
See, I think there is a little bit of that preening and vision versus reality going into his mustache in Dabangg as well. That Salman is proud of it, is proud of how it makes him feel like a real cop, that is why he keeps stroking and fiddling with it all the time. Salman the character, you understand, not the actor. It’s a great character touch, whenever he is thinking or nervous or unsure, he will stroke his mustache, like it reminds him of everything that creates his personality as macho man, cop, village leader, all of that.
And that’s what I think the mustache might mean in the Sultan trailer as well. Well, two things. First, that it is part of this character’s vision of himself as a manly man, a sign that he has a certain standard he feels he needs to live up to. And in the second half, when the mustache is gone and it is just an unshaven look, it is because he doesn’t feel the need to fit with anyone’s vision anymore, he is just himself the best way he knows how to be.
And secondly, the mustache is a sign to the audience that this is going to be another old school traditional kind of movie with a manly mustache man. To which I say, bring it on! With the way the box office has been sinking lately, we need an old school traditional kind of movie to save it!