Kannada superstar Sudeep makes a fiery return to Hindi cinema with Dabangg 3. Glowering in a trim suit, the actor stands against a flaming village in his first-look from the film. Sudeep plays ‘Balli’, the intriguing new supervillain to go up against Salman Khan in the blockbuster franchise. "I have never been this evil on screen," Sudeep admits, "My character is an out-and-out baddie. Without the antagonist being huger than Chulbul Pandey, the film won’t happen. My only responsibility for Dabangg 3 was to look bigger than Salman, which is difficult."
Sudeep was approached for the role by Sohail Khan, who pitched the idea over a video call from USA. Prabhudheva, who has directed the new instalment, was reluctant to speak over video, so they flew over to Mysore to narrate the script to Sudeep. “By then I had already made up my mind,” Sudeep says, “I wanted to work with Salman. There are several fight scenes between us in the film. It’s nice to be bad when he is around. You just make him look better and feel good about it. Not everybody is worth becoming bad for.”
Villain jitna bada ho, usse bhidne mein utna hi mazaa aata hai.— Chulbul Pandey (@BeingSalmanKhan) October 8, 2019
Introducing Sudeep Kiccha as Balli in 'Dabangg 3'.#KicchaSudeepInDabangg3@KicchaSudeep @arbaazSkhan @sonakshisinha @saieemmanjrekar @PDdancing @nikhil_dwivedi @SKFilmsOfficial @saffronbrdmedia pic.twitter.com/vvZYvroHYF
While remaining tight-lipped about his arc, Sudeep promises big blows with his turn as Balli. “There’s a moment you’ll see Chulbul Pandey go silent in front of me.” Likewise, the film’s action design has been beefed up enormously, assures Sudeep. “We shot the climax itself for 20 days. They put a huge set in Dahisar, Mumbai. It’s a brutal, hard-hitting fight, mainly hand-to-hand combat. Salman and I had to punch and hit each other. Sometimes, when you really respect your co-star, you can’t do certain things. But Salman gave me that space to go all out. Also, he had more energy on set than any of us.”
Sudeep’s last Hindi appearance was in Rakta Charitra 2, released in 2010. What kept him away all these years? “I didn’t feel welcomed at the time,” he says. “Not only that — I didn’t get good projects. But I am okay with that.” He adds that while director Ram Gopal Varma and actor Riteish Deshmukh — with whom he co-starred in Rann — made him “very comfortable,” there were others he couldn’t really click with. “I felt it was time for me to go back to Kannada. I was happy with the work I did in Hindi and I went back. That was it.”
Sudeep’s recent films — Pailwaan (Kannada) and Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy (Telugu) — were released in multiple regional languages. Dabangg 3, which is set to arrive on December 20, will be dubbed in Tamil, Telugu and Kannada. The actor welcomes the rise of this pan-Indian film culture, but stresses on the need for proper cultural translation between industries. “You can’t just label everything as Indian cinema. Mentalities still differ between the north and the south. So we need to keep these nuances in mind and make small edits before crossing over. For instance, South Indian comedies are a little louder, which don’t work in Bollywood.”
Although positioned as enemies in Dabangg 3, Sudeep and Salman have a lot in common. Both are mainstream superstars with an unabashed love for commercial cinema. Both have a moniker — ‘Kichcha’ for Sudeep, ‘Bhai’ or ‘Bhaijaan’ for Salman. Most strikingly, both are long-time Bigg Boss hosts, engaging fans with their distinctive iterations of the show on the small screen. Sudeep, who hosts Bigg Boss Kannada, says he has never seen Salman’s version.
“I have never watched anyone else’s Bigg Boss. I don’t like to get carried away. But I remember meeting Salman for the first two seasons in Lonavla (where the Hindi Bigg Boss house is located). We had separate set-ups, but he was always warm to me. He would call me over during breaks for a game of cricket. He calls it ‘cardio’.”
Dabangg 3 is produced by Salman Khan Films and Arbaaz Khan Productions. The film is a part-prequel and will explore the origin story of Chulbul Pandey.