The lion’s unending roar
Saffron flags are afflutter and puffs of vermillion suspended in the air when fervent drum beats announce the entry of Bajirao Singham (Ajay Devgn) in Singham. Bajirao is a Maratha warrior in khaki uniform. When we see Singham first, only a red dhoti covers his body, wet after a dip in holy water. I was shocked by the brazen Hindu jingoism in the way director Rohit Shetty has filmed this scene. An elaborate song-and-dance routine follows this, where the saffron saturates. But in reality, and thankfully, his being Hindu or Maratha does not matter as Singham progresses.
Besides some dialogues in Marathi, which Devgn is visibly uncomfortable with, the nationalistic strain mellows. Bajirao’s chest-thumping bravura and his bulging biceps matter much more. He crushes goons down on their heads with just an outstretched palm, his somersaults and leaps in the air are accompanied by orchestrated roaring noises in the background.
Bajirao is the good cop archetype you have not seen in Hindi movies for a while. Unlike Chulbul Pandey in Dabangg, he has no sense of humour. The weight of fighting evil is on his vast shoulders and he is given to bouts of verbose moralising —some of which, I have to admit, will rouse the hard cynic. A throwback to the ‘angry young man’ classics (it’s closest to Zanjeer in sensibility), Singham could have been a refreshing ode to the unequivocal, over-the-top idealism of the unwavering virtuous cop in cinema, had its story-telling and cinematic merit been more sophisticated.
When insulted by his boss in cahoots with Goa’s greedy, murderer politician about being a villager, Bajirao retorts (not verbatim), “When you’re in the police force, who cares whether you’re from a village or a city? We all wear the same uniform. Fire me if you wish because I can survive on little, unlike you, because I have my ideals.” Who can’t be roused enough to admire this man?
Sadly, Singham, lasting two hours and 25 minutes, is a test of your patience. The loud histrionics and the louder background noise—the roars and the pounding music—crushes your senses by the time good conquers evil and all is well with the world.
Bajirao is a policeman who mans a small police station in a village bordering Karnataka and Maharashtra. Villagers adore the son of a small businessman. He has unconventional ways of resolving conflicts in this sleepy village—forcing handshakes and hugs between two warring groups, for example. When a politician from Goa, Jaikant Shikre (Prakash Raj), known to murder children and force honest policemen to kill themselves, has to visit his station to comply with a court order, the conflict in this drama unfolds.
Bajirao is unsparing in his treatment of Shikre— “I know who you are, you are a murderer,” he says cockily. So Bajirao’s next posting is in Goa, which Shikre facilitates with his clout, simply to ensure that Bajirao crushes under his prowess. It helps Bajirao that the woman he is in love with, Kavya (Kaajal Agarwal), is also in Goa. The romantic episodes in the film are supposed to be comic, light-hearted respites, although most of them are shabby and laughable.
Singham is a remake of a huge Tamil blockbuster of the same name, which has actor Suriya in the lead role. For Devgn, it is a tough act to follow. Suriya’s charisma and screen presence, especially in action films, has few parallels in commercial Indian cinema. Besides the protagonist, the Tamil version directed by Hari, has a different beginning and he ties in the conclusion in an entirely different way too, and there are some turns in the story which Shetty avoids.
Both are unabashedly melodramatic and predictable; the masala Tamil potboiler as you know it—completely bereft of irony, nuance or silences. Prakash Raj, a fine, seasoned actor, performs the depraved antithesis of Singham in both versions, with conviction and ease.
For Devgn, this is as close as it can get to immersing headlong in his own stardom. The camera captures every flex of his muscle; almost every dialogue by him is a close-up. Slow-motion shots with him sharply in focus are too many and too repetitive. It is an accomplished lead performance, but comparisions with Suriya are inevitable, and he doesn’t quite match up to the Tamil superstar.
Among Mumbai producers, remakes of Tamil blockbusters are becoming de riguer. Foolproof formulae at the box office, maybe, but do they infuse life to and set better standrads for commercial HIndi cinema? No.
Singham has its moments, but it is overall a ham, a piece of ordinary cinema.
Singham released in theatres on Friday.