Bajirao Singham (Ajay Devgn) is a rural police officer in a town, Shivgad, in which his family and he hold a great amount of respect from the residents. As a result, he rarely has to do much hard work, though when he comes across someone doing something shady, he has no problem slapping the shit out of them. In fact, that is Singham's solution to every problem. When he gets dragged into a tug of war with Goan mob boss, Jaikant Shikre (Prakash Raj), things get tricky. Shikre gets Singham transferred from Shivgad to Goa where he has to deal with corrupt officials and sorrupt police oversight. He's always gone by the books, but soon realizes he's the only one, that's when he decides it's time to fight fire with fire, and it ain't pretty.
There is a lot to like about Singham. As I mentioned above, the action sequences are stupefyingly awesome. Rohit Shetty's stunt team takes it's inspiration from early '90s Hong Kong martial arts action by way of South India. This means a lot of wire work, which is typical for Indian action, and a lot of hand to hand combat. There is some gun-play, but it is slight, Singham prefers to handle business mano a mano. The only thing I really didn't like about the hand to hand combat is whenever Singham goes to deliver a coup de grace, he does with with what looks like an open handed slap, rather than a punch. Singham is another word for "lion", and the slap is meant to look like a lion's paw swiping, but it never really comes across on screen, and as a result I couldn't help but imagine a very angry member of the Village People dispensing justice.
In addition to the hand to hand combat, there are also a ton of car stunts, and let me tell you, nobody loves blowing up cars like Indian directors. They skid and drift and explode in the most amazing ways. One of my favorite shots is the final shot of the trailer, in which Singham drifts a car in a complete circle, stepping out of the car mid-skid, and shooting the front tire out of a jeep, which then flies into the air. That, by itself, is ridiculous in a very awesome way, however, the stunt continues in the film, with the Jeep flying through the air in a roll OVER Singham's head, and during this airborne roll, Singham grabs the goon out of the flying car's driver's side window and pins him to the ground as the car flies over his head. It is absolutely mad and inspired gales of laughter/cheers in the cinema, and rightly so. This is the kind of over the top action that Singham delivers, and it is uproariously fun. If only there were more of this and less of, well, almost everything else.
In its attempt to be all things to all people, Singham is bogged down in its first half by several irritating comedy tracks that lead nowhere. The punchline for each gag is punctuated with a silly sound effect. That's right, just in case you didn't get it, the sound effects prompt you when to laugh. This is very common in South Indian films, but not to much in the Hindi ones these days, and it just doesn't work. Also shoehorned in is a romance between Singham and a Goan girl named Kavya, played by Indian "it girl" Kajal Agarwal. This manages to provide a few laughs in the first half before being mostly abandoned except when convenient in the second half. These ill-conceived diversions suck the momentum out of the film whenever they arise. Normally, I can tolerate these kinds of tangents because they are usually accompanied, in Tamil and Telugu films, by raucous and colorful musical numbers, but even those fall flat in Singham.
The performances in Singham are also pretty uneven, which is a damned shame. The film more or less rests on Ajay Devgn's massive shoulders, but he seems to be incapable of emoting. Worse yet, it seems almost as though it was a conscious decision of the director to make him such an upstanding and righteous character, that he would have no sense of humor or real anger. A couple of times he manages to get angry, but mostly he just stares intently. One actor who does not phone it in is Telugu mainstay Prakash Raj, who also recently played a very similar character in Amitabh Bachchan's Bbuddah Hoga Terra Baap. Prakash Raj's gangster is genuinely frightening, and if you weren't sure he was a bad guy, during his introduction on screen, he strangles an eight year old with his bare hands. Holy shit! He's not fucking around! Raj's manic anger and rage is a sight to see on the big screen, he has these immense bulging eyes that feel like they'll jump off the screen at any moment, and he has his asshole routine down to a science.
Singham is a film that could only have come from India. The black and white morality is the stuff of classic Indian masala, and the kind of thing you never see in Western films. Another real shocker was the beginning of the romance between Kavya and Bajirao Singham, which is initiated when, after Kavya has had a bit of fun scaring the bumpkins in Shivgad with a ridiculous mask, Singham confronts her, mask still hiding her face, and slaps the ever-loving shit out of her! This results in Kavya plotting revenge on Singham the next day, but when he preempts it by apologizing, she immediately decides that she must marry him. What the fuck? This man, whose slaps make gang enforcers literally fly through the air, slaps this tiny stick figure of a girl and she not only survives but conspires to marry him? That's entertainment!
Singham had the potential to be a real winner. At two hours and twenty three minutes, the film is svelte by Bollywood standards, but still it manages to feel very flabby. Between the unnecessary romance, silly comedy tracks, and the never-ending slow-motion shots, the film would have been a rousing success at about ninety minutes. If they could have trimmed that fat, made the songs a bit more up-tempo, and let the camera run at a normal speed, this would be an easy recommendation. As it stands, I can only recommend it half-heartedly. Singham is not for the Bollywood newbie. If you're used to the Hindi film contrivances, you'll make it through just fine, but there is just too much dead air in the film. As a show reel for Indian action is is pretty decent, though, and with that thought in mind, I'll leave you with the trailer once again, which, surprise surprise, shows most of the best parts. Sure, I'll revisit it, but I'm a sucker for a good slap...
- Rohit Shetty
- Hari (original story)
- Yunus Sajawal (screenplay)
- Sajid (dialogue)
- Ajay Devgn
- Kajal Aggarwal
- Prakash Raj
- Sonali Kulkarni