[An edited version of this piece appeared in the DNA on Sunday July 31st]
“Singham” is a throwback to the single-screen, honest-cop-against-the-system potboiler from the 80s and 90s, a formula that as “Wanted” and “Dabangg” demonstrated still has legs, even in these multiplex-friendly, emasculated “Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara” days. Honest cop set-up by bad guys, heroine being ched-chaad-ed by baddies, “comedy” scene, song sequence, romance angle, corrupt cops, corrupt politicians, honest cop arresting goons, bad cop bailing them out, villain coming to police chowki and offering bribes, villain getting humiliated, villain being beaten up, villain getting back at the hero, hero punching his daylights out; every element of the much-loved formula is arranged in repeated regular patterns like nucleotides in a DNA polymer.
And yet Singham for me had as much kick as a slap from Alok Nath.
The reason is this. The buffed and hulked-up Ajay Devgun. Or Ajay Devgn as he is now called, since he has dropped the “u”—whether it be for numerological reasons or because it makes his name easier to SMS I know not. Don’t get me wrong. Ajay Devgn is a very good actor as he showed in “Gangaajal” where he perfectly played a cop grappling with the dilemma of representing the law in a world run by evil. But in “Singham” where the action is too cartoonish and the plot just too ridiculously cliched, his intense earnestness is an absolute waste, almost as if he is trying to convince us to take the whole thing seriously.
Only two leading men can pull this kind of caper off. One is Salman Khan, who with the twinkle in his eye and the ability to hold his pose theatrically for the camera, adds an endearing element of self-parody to the genre.Which is what, together with its rather intelligent script, made “Dabangg” such great entertainment.
The other of course is Sunny Deol. Why? Because when one punch sends 100 Kg men 10 feet in the air while they rotate like pinwheels, when jeeps and trucks glide through the air like frisbees , when lampposts are plucked from the ground as effortlessly as if they were flowers, when men slide on their knees over concrete as if on ice or jump straight up in the air like they were on Mars, there is only one man who can make it look like it actually might happen. Sunny paaji. Because as anyone who has ever looked into his eyes, trembling with wrath, knows, even the laws of physics are scared of him. As far as he is concerned E is not equal to mc-squared but mc-round. Ever since he threw Balwant Rai through the glass door, crushed numerous bones and made them into gruel with his dhai-kilo ke haath, yanked out a hand-pump out of the ground in “Gadar” and laid to waste an entire battalion of the Pakistani army with his lion-like roars, Sunny D has owned this genre of over-the-top, physics-defying violence bringing to it a ferocious “khoon pee jayoonga” “Kasam Ganga Maiya ki ghar main ghuskar maroonga” gravitas that no one else can. Of course with Sunny in, you cannot smile like you would in a Salman movie, you would be too busy holding onto your seats and praying that he does not jump out of the screen and give you one of his back-handed teeth-smashing slaps that he is famous for, if you even so much as snigger.
Ajay Devgn, good actor as he is, can neither make me smile like Salman nor tremble like Sunny Deol and this is why I guess “Singham” left me cold.
So how does one get all warmed up if he be in the mood for bone-crunching action? Here is what I would recommend. Watch the “Ghayal Returns” promo on Youtube that packs within its 30 seconds more soul-shaking delight than the two hours plus of “Singham”.