Roars a bit, whimpers more

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By The Ajay Devgn-Prakash raj scenes salvage the stale singham
  • Published 23.07.11

If plexes can give 3-D glasses at the theatre doors, why not earplugs and Google translators? Those are tools as necessary to watch a film like Singham as those dark eyepieces to watch a Transformers. You need the translator because more than half the film — especially all the punch lines — is in Marathi and when you can’t understand the language might as well safeguard your ears given the deafening Dolby drubbing it gets.

Director Rohit Shetty who calls himself Bollywood’s very own Michael Bay and gets a lot of joy in blowing up cars — and even shows in the closing credits how he does them — takes a break from his blockbuster Golmaal series to remake the 2010 Tamil hit Singam. It makes sense. It makes sense to have Ajay Devgn play the angry, dialogue-maroing, dhishoom-phadoing, not-so-young man at a time when Salman Khan has been beating the box-office blues with his south Indian action remakes.

So you have Devgn playing the upright cop Bajirao Singham who is an inspector in a small village called Shivgarh near the Maharashtra-Goa border. Since big cars cannot do somersaults in such small villages, Singham himself does amazing acrobats while bashing the baddies.

His usual routine is to first run a mile or so, then jump high up in the air and come down with a thump on the head of whoever is unfortunate enough to be around. He follows that up with the regulatory “Wham! Bam! Pow!” punches and then whips off his belt and goes on a lashing spree. Since all this happens in slo-mo, the film clocks all those extra minutes.

And all through, “Singham Singham” goes ham-ham on the soundtrack. We mentioned earplugs, remember?

Devgn’s big adversary turns out to be an extortionist named Jaikant Shikre (Prakash Raj) who is like this epitome of evil. So, when Singham has him drive down 300km to sign a conditional bail and then calls him a maamuli gunda, Shikre’s “ego is hurt”. He has the cop transferred to Goa, so that the game can be played according to his rules on his turf.

This archaic honest cop-vs-bad man duel is turned in the last couple of reels into a statement on the sanctity of the police force. How only they have the lion stamped on their heads and are supposed to roar and protect the citizens. Now, if all of this sounds uncannily familiar, it’s because you might have seen (or heard of) the recent Jeet-starrer Shatru. Yeah, yeah that’s the Bengali remake, coming before the Bollywood copy-paste for a change!

To his credit, Shetty is able to reprise the visceral energy of the original Tamil film. Because like Suriya did in Singam, Devgn in Singham is able to impart on screen a raw, brutal force that merges perfectly with his brand of earnestness and integrity. His lines may not have the throw of a Salman but are delivered with so much heart, that your blood’s put on the boil.

Prakash Wanted Raj, who also played the villain in the original, is the perfect foil to Devgn’s Singham. One of the better actors of our time, having created celluloid magic in movies like Mani Ratnam’s Iruvar and Priyadarshan’s Kanchivaram, Raj has channelised himself perfectly to be these loud, playful Bolly baddies who are part of a formulaic set-up, yet so much fun.

Unfortunately, Devgn and Raj do not have the whole film to themselves and without the heat they generate together, Singham is more of a whimper than a roar. Devgn’s romantic track with Kajal Aggarwal is insipid and almost redundant in this whole small village-big city, good cop-bad cop tale.

The songs could have been left out as well. Barring the title track, which has the dum, the rest of Ajay-Atul’s numbers are forgotten even before they finish. The action set-pieces (directed by Jai Singh Nijjar and ‘designed’ by Shetty himself) are executed with elan but these too are not original. Like Devgn’s now-famous stunt of stepping out of a spinning car shooting is a straight lift from the Bruce Willis film Red.

All that doesn’t seem to matter to these men. Thanks to Salman ‘bhaijaan’, big Bolly has found a hit formula and there’s a lot of money to be made here over the first weekends. There will be many similar roars, but you’ve got just one pair of ears.

Pratim D. Gupta
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