Singham Returns review: The least cartoonish of Shetty's films so far
Brace yourselves, ladies and gents, because Singham Returns is the least cartoonish of Shetty's films so far.
The first time a car goes airborne in Singham Returns, it's been more than 90 minutes into the film. It happens on the Sea Link, where black vans full of bad guys show up. One of them has a rocket launcher and keeps popping up like the dormouse in the Mad Hatter's tea party from Alice in Wonderland. The second car explodes soon after as does a third, but the fact is director and action director Rohit Shetty took 90 whole minutes before making things blow up in Singham Returns.
Brace yourselves, ladies and gents, because Singham Returns is the least cartoonish of Shetty's films so far. Perhaps the scathing reviews of his previous films did make an impact because faced with the dilemma of what to do with a hero who has already acquired larger than life proportions, Shetty decided to try grounding Baijirao Singham instead of pumping more hot air into him. This time, Shetty's given his hero a genuine case and set his story in a real city.
So Bajirao Singham (Ajay Devgn) is now Deputy Commissioner of Police in Mumbai. When one of his inspectors is found dead in a van full of cash, everything points to the policeman being corrupt, but Singham is not convinced. He begins investigating the case with good old Daya (Daya Chetty) and gang. The clues lead him to the lecherous and generally reprehensible Babaji (Amol Gupte), who appears to deliver all his public sermons in a place that looks like a wedding ground, right down to the flower arrangements. Except, instead of a buffet or a mandap, there's the Baba, fleecing people.
Just in case he had you giggling with his choice of informal attire — the first time we see Baba off duty, he's wearing a basketball jersey with "Dope Chef" written on it — his home only has red lights. Long-time watchers of Bollywood will know that villainy is truly revealed in dim, red lighting that brings out the bulbous nature of the bad guy's eyes.
The enemy Singham is up against is formidable: Baba and the ruling political party are hand in glove. They have no conscience, but they have the budget to afford ski masks and rocket launchers for the foot soldiers who do their dirty work. Singham, on the other hand, has just a few policemen, some uncool guns and a few jeeps. It's not a fair fight, but with his muscle power, the loyalty of his fellow policemen and a little help from the Mahim Dargah, Singham takes on the bad guys.
Much of Singham Returns looks like an advertisement for Maharashtra's infrastructure projects. Smooth highways, bridges that can withstand multiple explosions, massive cranes, a police force that is able to reach the scene of crime without delay — these are the illusions Singham Returns sells along with the idea that any Mumbai cop would look like Devgn does in a wet dhoti. Of course, films like Singham Returns are not about reality as much as what Shetty and team believe people would like to see as reality and Shetty's probably bang on the money. This is a world in which the cops are not corrupt and the poor can speak out when they're being beaten; where there is someone like Singham is looking out for the little guy, whether they're a student or a criminal. At the same time, Shetty does point out very serious issues confronting policemen and families, like housing, ageing and understaffing. All this would be fine if Singham's frustration with the government and legal system didn't have Shetty effectively endorsing encounters killings and staged deaths.
While cars take some time to fly, there's no shortage of slapping and punching people in Singham Returns although there seems to be a severe shortage of miscreants in Mumbai. The same set of young men keep getting doses from Singham repeatedly, which makes you think 47 thousand cops may not be too few for Mumbai if a couple of speeding tickets is all we need to worry about by way of crime.
The film's atrocious sound design includes a high-pitched buzzing sound that comes each time Singham hits someone. That's supposed to be the ringing inside the head of the one who got hit, but ends up in the audience's ears. About 15 minutes into the film, you're guaranteed to have tinnitus that will linger well after the duration of Singham Returns (142 minutes). Between this tinny buzz, the roars that accompany Singham and the amount of shrieking that everyone other Devgn does in the film, Singham Returns should come with advance warning that the audience should carry its own ear plugs.
Because once you get past that, Singham Returns is actually not unbearable. It's predictable and has about as much nuance as a Parle-G biscuit, but it's not without its moments. Compared to the train wreck that was Chennai Express, Shetty's last release, this film shows a significant improvement in his storytelling skills. From the abundance of Marathi in the dialogue to holding up some of Mumbai's more heartwarming traditions like the relationship between the police and the Mahim Dargah, the city is not just a bland backdrop for Singham's new adventures. The Gateway of India, the food of Irani cafes, the Sea Link, the local trains — Shetty folds these and other familiar details of Mumbai into Singham Returns. It isn't pretty or picturesque in most parts and some of it is entirely fake, but then that's true of Mumbai in real life too.
There are also a few genuinely funny moments, like when Baba quotes Gita to Singham and Singham responds by quoting the Money Laundering Control Act. There's of course the "Daya, darwaaza tor do!" moment and a climax that involves shirtless but ganji-clad police, men and women. At another point, one of the cops teases Singham, telling him he should just get on with it and marry because "umar nikal rahi hai". It's one of those rare moments when the blankness on Devgn's face works quite beautifully and is a reminder that just because you're a supercop doesn't mean you're exempt from social expectations. Good ghaati boys need to get married.
Which brings us to the weakest link in Singham Returns: a love story that is one of the strongest cases Bollywood has made for bachelorhood so far. Kareena Kapoor can claim distinction for being the one actor who makes Devgn's acting skills seem amazing. For once, you completely understand his wooden expression because there's really no other way to react to Kapoor's screeching inanity. Although she has a fair amount of time on screen, if you chopped off her scenes in the film, no one would notice anything was missing. This is not only because both she and Devgn are quite obviously uncomfortable with the idea of being an on-screen couple, but also because the beginnings of a real love story seem to be nestled elsewhere in Singham Returns. Hint: she has a mic and a cameraman, and she ain't afraid to use it.
Except for that story to unfold, you'd need Singham to be capable of noticing subtlety and appreciating a woman who can bend the rules like he does. For now, all you get is Singham Returns, with its tinnitus-friendly, pro-fake encounters stance.
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