In recent years, movies like Ra.One and Drona tried — and failed — to create lasting Indian celluloid superheroes. This seems an unnecessary endeavor since India already has a cinema superhero: The Supercop.
The Supercop is more of an archetype than he is a costumed hero, a la Spiderman or Batman, but he fits right in with all of the other comic book crusaders. The Supercop is morally righteous, virtually indestructible, and possesses superhuman strength. That he wears a police uniform and a mustache instead of tights and a cape makes no difference.
The Supercop has recently been depicted onscreen by Akshay Kumar in Khiladi 786 and Rowdy Rathore, and Salman Khan’s been playing essentially the same character for the last three years. Add in all of the South Indian actors who’ve played a version of The Supercop, and it’s clear India already has a national superhero.
Ajay Devgn takes his turn as The Supercop in Singham (“Lion”), a remake of a Tamil film. Devgn’s character, Bajirao Singham, has much in common with all the other Supercops. He’s a simple man with strong values who abhors violence, even though he’s required on numerous occasions to beat the tar out of people. He’s a 40-something bachelor because his moral purity has made him basically oblivious to women, until his One True Love comes to town and sweeps him off his feet.
Bajirao has a nice life as the sheriff of his hometown. His neighbors love him for his skill in resolving disputes before they turn violent. He’s so virtuous that an apology to Kavya (Kajal Agarwal) — a young woman originally from the village who now resides in Goa — makes her fall instantly in love with him.
Bajirao makes the mistake of embarrassing a gangster from Goa named Jaykant Shikre (Prakash Raj, who is superb in the film) by treating him just as he would any other criminal. A transfer to the Goa police force seems like a well-deserved promotion — and a chance to be near Kavya — until Shikre reveals that he used his influence to have Bajirao transferred for the express purpose of making the cop’s life a living hell.
Shikre is a bad, bad dude. His rap sheet includes choking a kidnapped grade-schooler to death with his bare hands when the boy’s father couldn’t afford to pay the ransom. He also successfully terrorized another upright police officer, Inspector Kadam (Sudhanshu Pandey), into committing suicide when the cop refused to take a bribe. Shikre’s tactics — which include harassment at all hours, cutting off Bajirao’s electricity, and false crime reports — force Bajirao to weigh whether returning to a simple life in his hometown is worth letting a monster like Shikre run unchecked.
In general, Singham is much like any other Supercop movie. Bajirao flips guys in the air with one hand and can run as fast as a speeding Jeep. His signature attack involves leaping in the air and swatting bad guys with an open paw, accompanied by the sound of a lion roaring.
Also as in other Supercop movies, the hero’s moral superiority goes unquestioned, even though it shouldn’t. Bajirao himself is introduced when Inspector Kadam’s widow begs god to make Shikre pay. This divine instrument of justice beats a group of men with his fists until they are reduced to heaps on the ground, then flogs them publicly with his belt, all for the crime of stealing Kavya’s shawl. Once the men were down on the ground, a public apology and the return of Kavya’s shawl should’ve been sufficient. But Bajirao insists on humiliating the men, just as he does to Shikre and just as Shikre eventually does to him.
Bajirao walks further down the slippery slope when he convinces the other officers in his squad to lie about what they’ve seen. Yes, the end result is that Shikre and his goons are unable to commit crimes without impunity for a change, but at what cost? Shikre and Bajirao both wind up perverting the system to achieve their own ends, so are they really that different? Shikre has the higher body count, but he’s not the one sworn to uphold the law. Bajirao is.
Beyond the ethical questions — which pop up often in Supercop movies and aren’t limited to Singham alone — Singham is entertaining enough. Kavya is more active than many of The Supercop’s heroines, which is a nice change. Kavya charmingly contrives ways to meet Bajirao through a series of fake thefts, and she gets everyone in town to lobby Bajirao to marry her.
Director Rohit Shetty misses a big opportunity to add tension to the movie. Shikre knows that Bajirao and Kavya are an item, but he never threatens Kavya. In another instance of (perhaps deliberate) misdirection, Shetty positions the camera above a spinning ceiling fan to look down upon Inspector Kadam as he contemplates suicide. The obvious implication is that Kadam will hang himself from the fan, but he ends up shooting himself.
Because of similarities throughout films in the genre, preference really comes down to which actor plays The Supercop. I like Ajay Devgn as an actor more than Salman Khan or Akshay Kumar, so I enjoyed Singham more than their iterations of the same story. Still, just as I’m not interested in any more Spiderman or Superman origin stories, I think I’ve seen enough of The Supercop.