Forget Kareena, the real love story in Singham Returns is between Ajay Devgn and Ashwini Kalsekar

Deepanjana Pal

Aug 19, 2014 15:10:05 IST

If you've seen the posters and merchandise of Singham Returns, you may have noticed that this time around, Bajirao Singham has to not only punish bad guys but also fall in love. Kareena Kapoor is in the publicity photos, wearing sunglasses matching Devgn's. The trailer shows Devgn carrying Kapoor in his arms. All the signs point towards Kapoor playing Singham's lady love.

Except she isn't the only woman in with a chance to snag the Most Eligible Male on this side of the Western Ghats.

Sure, Kapoor as Avni is the one cooing sweet nothings to Singham, but somewhere under the piles of crumpled jeeps and thugs with broken bones, there's a love story that Rohit Shetty has scripted (perhaps without realising he's done anything of the sort).

 Forget Kareena, the real love story in Singham Returns is between Ajay Devgn and Ashwini Kalsekar

Courtesy: Facebook

Here's what happens, in romantic terms, in Singham Returns. Bajirao Singham may be a supercop, but his eligibility as a good, Maharashtrian groom is nearing its expiry date. His singleton ways are the stuff of good-humoured jokes among his colleagues and one constable goes so far as to gently remind Singham that "umar nikal jaa rahi hai". Bluntly put, he's well past the ideal marriageable age and it's about time he sowed his wild oats.

In Singham, our hero had a little dalliance that is clearly history since that young woman is both out of sight and out of mind. His parents react the way most loving Indian parents tend to respond to break-ups -- they look around for eligible young things among their friends' children and dabble in a spot of matchmaking.

Enter Avni, sister of Singham's friend and daughter of Singham's parents' friends. The two of them are thrown together by family and Singham quickly finds himself in a situation where he's effectively being cornered into a relationship (with Avni).

One of the rare moments of visible expression on Devgn's face in Singham Returns is when Avni tells Singham that she isn't interested in a relationship or marriage at the moment. Singham is relieved and confesses to Avani that he feels the same. The two, however, can't agree about who should break this news to the two sets of parents.

We don't know quite what about Singham makes Avni's pulse pitter patter -- maybe it's the fact that Irani cafes in Mumbai are happy to serve him for free? -- but out of the blue, she loses most of deductive reasoning and acquires a jealous temperament. One of Singham's childhood friends (a woman) gives him a hug and Avni immediately suspects Singham is having a secret affair with her. We're given to understand this is love, as Avni sees it at any rate.

Avni follows Singham and his friend around, completely misreads the situation and sets up an elaborate, embarrassing scene (made all the more cringe-inducing by Kapoor's horrific acting) during which she announces that she is in love with him. As if all this wasn't bad enough, her parents and Singham's parents are all there when she does this. What can poor Singham do? He looks as uncomfortable as we feel. Looking wooden enough to be cast as the long lost cousin of Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy, Singham agrees to hang out with Avni.

This leads to a scene in which Avni is sitting and gazing at Singham, who is either taking a dip in the river or trying to check if the Punjabi adage of "chullu bhar paani mein doob maro" is practically viable when one's got a girlfriend who behaves like a stalker. He's bathing in the river; what is she doing, sitting there, fully clothed, staring at him unblinkingly? As if it wasn't bad enough, Avni picks up a work call that Singham gets from Daya and doesn't give Singham the phone even though he's barely a few feet away. Why? Perhaps because she's enjoying the view or maybe because she doesn't want to lose Singham to his first love, his job.

Singham realises that Avni doesn't entirely understand the demands his work makes of him, which is why there's a little scene in which he explains to her that he's a policeman first and a family man, later. Avni is not happy to hear this, if Kapoor's expression is anything to go by (or maybe Kapoor was just thinking back to her performance in the film so far).

It quickly becomes clear that the only benefit of having Avni as a love interest is strategic: she's so empty-headed that Singham can use her like a puppet. Left to her own devices, she'll pick stupid fights, like the one in which she beats up a reporter. However, guided properly, she can be useful. For instance, when Singham needs a woman to slap a seedy politician, he directs Avni to do the deed for him.

As far as the romantic angle in Singham Returns is concerned, this scene is of critical importance. On one hand, you have Avni, looking at Singham with all the wide-eyed cuteness and intelligence of a dim-witted Labrador that expects a doggie treat for having done the trick they were taught. On the other, you have Ashwini Kalsekar as the journalist who is watching Singham's plan against the politician unfold and seeing the cop in a new light.

Kalsekar plays a journalist named Barka who till now has only been an irritating thorn in Singham's side. Considering how much Shetty has complained about the media being unfair to him, it's not surprising that most of the journalists in Singham Returns are vulture-esque creatures with barely any common sense, let alone journalistic insight.

Barka, however, is an exception. She notices details, like the fact that the dead cop suspected of corruption had been driving an ambulance owned by a fraudulent godman. She also asks difficult questions and isn't cowed down by Singham's roaring.

Until the scene in which Singham gets Avni to slap the politician, Barka (like some in the audience) thinks Singham is a muscled oaf. It's when he turns out to have a sly side that Barka starts to rethink her opinion of him. You can see it in Kalsekar's restrained surprise at Singham using to his advantage the regulation that requires the presence of a policewoman when a woman is arrested.

It's a moment of complete and wordless understanding between Singham and Barka: she understands what he's done and he knows she's figured him out.

From then onwards, Singham and Barka exchange many knowing glances and few words. They're very aware of each other, as is obvious from the way they notice each other whenever they're in the same space. From the animosity that marked the early exchanges, there's an obvious softening, growing respect and an understanding that is completely missing from Avni and Singham's relationship.

In many ways, Barka and Singham's relationship is a re-enactment of the classic love story set up: Boy and girl hate each other when they meet, but then she starts seeing him in a new light which in turn makes him soften towards her. What makes Kalsekar's turn as journalist more interesting is that she isn't a bimbo (like Avani) by a long shot. In fact, near the end, when Singham is going somewhat nuts and shooting people in their bottoms, it's Barka who is able to thump some good sense into him. Kalsekar as Barka is Singham's equal. She's just as committed to her job as he is, as over the top as he is and as unwilling to back down.

She's also the one who, without any prompts from Singham, comes up with a plan to restore the Mumbai Police's good reputation and expose the real criminals. In sharp contrast to Avni who needs to be spoon-fed ideas and pouts at Singham when his behaviour doesn't match her pre-conceived notions of how an adoring boyfriend/ fiancee is supposed to behave, Barka accepts Singham as he is. He isn't her protector or saviour, but her equal. That's why, near the end of the film, Barka smiles at him wryly and observes that there's no changing him. There's no censure in her voice when she says this; only resigned amusement.

So ultimately, the real love story in Singham Returns is not between Avni and Singham, but in the relationship that is tentatively coming together between Barka and him. The journalist and the cop -- in the tradition of Superman and Barkha Dutt, sorry, Lois Lane, except Kalsekar's Barka is much smarter than Lois.

Shetty may not have intended it, but he's ended up writing a much better premise for a love story than most romantic comedies that Bollywood churns out. Of course, psychologists will come up with some rather interesting interpretations of what Shetty is sublimating when he takes the hostile relationship between his hero and the press and places it neatly into the construct of the traditional Bollywood love story.

As simple moviegoers, all we can do is misquote John Lennon and say, love is what happens to Singham while he's busy making other plans.

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Updated Date: Aug 19, 2014 15:26:48 IST