There is a scene in Gabbar Singh where Brahmanandam, a money lender, walks into the villain's den and roars that his dues be settled. He is aware that he is in the danger zone and that he is no match for the goons. Yet, he doesn't flinch. All that he has for moral support is a larger-than-life cut out of Pawan Kalyan. In yet another scene, Pawan refers to Ali as “my fan”.
Gabbar Singh is larger than life, made to please the humungous fan following Pawan Kalyan enjoys and director Harish Shankar, too, is a self-proclaimed fan of the actor. Harish's work is more of an adaptation than a frame-to-frame remake of Dabangg. We know the story. A young boy grows up seeing his little step brother bask in the love and affection showered by the stepfather, runs away only to return as a cop. He is a cop, sure, but not your typical hero. As a child, he takes a liking to the iconic villain of Sholay and calls himself Gabbar Singh.
Gabbar Singh (Pawan Kalyan) sets his own rules. He calls his aide (Ali) Samba, renames the police station as Gabbar Singh station and releases a bunch of thugs from the lock-up provided they are willing to comply with his rules. He takes up a posting in his native village Kondaveedu to be closer to his mother (Suhasini reprises the role of Dimple Kapadia), is still hated by his brother (Ajay) and father (Nagineedu). In place of Sonu Sood comes Abhimanyu Singh as Siddhappa Naidu, an influential goon who dreams of entering politics. Gabbar Singh thwarts all moves of Siddhappa Naidu and the latter wants revenge. Amidst all this, Gabbar Singh falls for the gorgeous Bhagyalakshmi (Shruti Haasan) who keeps him at arm's length citing that she has to take care of her alcoholic father.
The story is formulaic. Don't expect anything out of the box. What comes as a saver is an engaging screenplay, witty dialogues and performances from the actors. Pawan Kalyan is a man in control. He is at ease with humour, beats goondas to a pulp with chutzpah and shakes a leg with Malaika Arora Khan (Munni's Telugu version Kevvu Keka). The film heavily banks on him and he pulls it off efficiently. Shruti Haasan is cast as a village belle for the first time and she sails through the part. Abhimanyu Singh comes up with another memorable performance and Tanikella Bharani, Dharmavarapu and Suhasini pitch in with supporting roles.
The brother's role, however, is a disappointment. A fine actor like Ajay struggles in an ill-etched character. Barring the pre-climax, he has no scope to show his prowess.
The story unravels in a colourful, fictitious village. The parched red land, the myriad colours during the village mela and Shruti Haasan's store that stocks hand-painted wooden dolls and other artefacts have a semblance of the rustic side of Gujarat and Rajasthan. Art director Brahma Kadali deserves special mention. Adding zing to the film throughout is Devisri Prasad's music. The 70s hangover is hard to miss in the background score.
Yes, the film is indulgent. The overdose of Pawan Kalyan's swagger and slow-motion shots slacken the pace. At some point in the film, you wonder if there's no room for subtleties as dialogue renditions remain over the top. But despite its shortcomings, Gabbar Singh is a fun ride. After the initial few minutes, you stop comparing Gabbar with Chulbul Pandey and the film with Dabangg. Therein lies its success.
Cast: Pawan Kalyan, Shruti Haasan, Ajay, Suhasini, Abhimanyu Singh and others.
Direction: Harish Shankar
Music: Devisri Prasad
Plot: A formulaic story of a clash between a Robinhood cop and a village goon.
Bottomline: Unabashedly relies on star power, but entertains all the way.