In Rohit Shetty’s latest family-friendly piece of entertainment, cars somersault, guns blaze, cops sail through the air, politicians are described as pimps and godmen openly lust after their female devotees. Kids will totally love the gesture, probably borrowed from Asterix comics, of cops tapping their fingers on their temples to mime the movie’s main tagline “Ataa majhi satakli" (I have finally lost it), while the several lakh Indians who recently reaffirmed their faith in Parliament and voted in a new prime minister with a thumping majority might just wonder whether the anti-legislator rhetoric is outdated.

Shetty tries to do a Shankar in Singham Returns, the sequel to the 2011 Hindi remake of the Tamil movie Singam. A vigilante movie that smartly lands its punches and punch dialogue is well suited to provide unreal solutions to very real problems, but Shetty also wants to change the world, one car blow-up at a time. In between the runs-in with thugs and masked gun-men, there are pleas for a better tomorrow, candle-light vigils and speeches to the media to behave.

Yet, Shetty doesn’t possess the Tamil filmmaker’s ability to package his fascistic vigilante politics with visual flourishes. Singham Returns’s impoverished production values and flat lighting are glaringly evident throughout its 142-minute running time. Most of the budget appears to have been splashed on overhead helicopter-enabled views of Mumbai and the spectacular action sequences, which remain the movie’s main and only draw.

Ajay Devgn’s ultra-honest police officer and one-man military continues to roar his way through a jungle of corruption of moral decay, with his new prey taking the form of Amole Gupte’s unholy preacher and Zakir Hussain’s crooked politician. Singham’s rage is stoked first by the death of one of his men who is accused of corruption, a word and state alien to the Maharashtra police force, and then by the death of Anupam Kher’s saintly Gandhi-meets-Hazare politician. In between meting out off-the-books punishment, Singham carries on an indifferent romance with a manically ebullient Kareena Kapoor Khan, who replaces Kajal Aggarwal from the first part, and who is content to pick up her pay cheque and step out of frame whenever Singham slow-motion walks into it.

The copious use of Marathi in the movie, and Singham’s self-identification as a Maratha at one point, leave no doubt about the movie’s intended audience—the lakhs of beleaguered Mumbaiites who dream of a city in which order will replace chaos, politicians will serve the people rather than themselves, and the police will protect them rather than pick their pockets for bribes. On the last subject, the movie is clear: it’s the system (invoked in capital letters) that is to blame, not individuals. We have moved on from Ram Gopal Varma’s indictment of the rot that is embedded in the very foundation of this metropolis and his caustic depictions of the cosy ties between gangsters, politicians and police officials. The delusion of an incorruptible police force dedicated to upholding law and order at all costs and impervious to any manner of inducement pushes Singham Returns onto the same shelf as science fiction.

Some of this vigilantism is successfully played for laughs, such as the sequence in which a quote from the Bhagwad Gita is countered with a reminder of the provisions in the Indian Penal Code, and the one in Singham and his khaki cohorts strip down to their spotless white vests when informed by the state’s chief minister that as men of uniform, they cannot possibly take the law in their own hands. Their trousers stay on, probably in deference to the fact that this is, after all, a family movie.

Close