Watching “Dabangg 3” it’s clear that the law of diminishing returns has caught up with this franchise. There is just no polite way to say this – the new film is an excruciating, exhausting bore.

In 2010 under the direction of Abhinav Kashyap, it seemed like Salman Khan had found his superhero alter ego. Charming rogue cop Chulbul Pandey, with his cheeky one-liners, oddball quirks, and cartoonish but effective fight moves was the actor’s best realized character in years. Even 2012’s decidedly mediocre sequel “Dabangg 2”, directed by Arbaaz Khan, had stray moments of inspired lunacy that suggested some promise. But this third installment, directed by Prabhu Deva and scripted by Salman Khan himself, is irredeemable.

To apply common superhero parlance, the new film tells the origin story of Chulbul Pandey. We learn what his real name is, what led to him become a police officer, and where he swiped his signature line from – the one that goes: “Hum tum mein itne chhed karenge ki confuse ho jaoge ki saans kahan se le aur paadein kahan se.” We also learn about a doomed romance of his with a young girl named Khushi (Saiee Manjrekar), before he met and married Rajjo (Sonakshi Sinha).

Now I don’t know about you but watching a 54-year-old Salman Khan romance the baby-faced 21-year-old newcomer on screen is exactly the reminder we need about Bollywood’s double standards when it comes to gender and age. It’s as if the filmmakers decided Sonakshi Sinha at 32 is already too old to be the film’s sole leading lady, so let’s bring in another one that’s even younger. Salman, meanwhile, thanks to some nifty computer effects, is made to look a tad younger himself in these portions.

I’m only really bringing this up because it’s too much of an irony that the film positions its hero as a poster-child for gender equality and women empowerment. Pandeyji is a model feminist who offers dowry instead of asking for it, who does not recommend that women take their husbands’ surnames after marriage, and who actively encourages Khushi to pursue and complete her education before they can marry.

Chulbul may have a progressive outlook when it comes to women, but the same can’t be said about the film’s unmistakably sexist gaze. It’s in the manner that Prabhu Deva frames his women: the camera lingering a little too long on a heroine’s bosom, repeated shots of her bare midriff. You only have to watch some of the earlier films Prabhu Deva has directed to spot the pattern. There’s also the matter of the female characters reduced to simpering becharis. In one of the ugliest moments in the film, the villain decides he’s going to kill the girl he loves because it’s no point killing her lover; she’ll continue to pine for him after he’s dead and he still won’t have a shot with her. The women are that dispensable.

Even if you don’t have a problem with these things – and you should – “Dabangg 3” is still a slog. The film feels like a string of unimaginative, repetitive action scenes strung together, pausing every few minutes for an underwhelming song. At 2 hours and 42 minutes, the relentless action gets tiring. How many punches and blows can you watch before your eyes begin to glaze over?

It must also be said that the camera moves rapidly in the action scenes, and the editing is breakneck so that it’s hard to tell who is doing what to whom. At other times there is an over-reliance on slow motion to highlight specific moves and stunts. The makers can try to hide it as much as they want but it’s clear for anyone who cares to notice that age is catching up with our leading man. No shame in that.

What’s genuinely disappointing is that the irreverence, the lightness of touch that was the hallmark of the first film can be spotted but only in flashes. Chulbul Pandey appears to have become a caricature of himself, and Salman Khan makes very little effort to pump fresh oxygen into the part. Sonakshi Sinha, Saiee Manjrekar, and Dimple Kapadia as the protagonist’s mother, show up and go through the motions. The film’s villain, Kichha Sudeep, gets a few moments to make his presence felt. But it’s all in service of a story that’s so outdated you have to wonder how no one associated with the film called it out.

I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five for “Dabangg 3”. I left the cinema with a pounding headache and a moment of silence for a promising character that they all but buried. Chulbul Pandey, Rest in Peace.

Rating: 1.5 / 5