Movie Review: Singham (2011)

Singham3 Stars (out of 4)

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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.

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29 thoughts on “Movie Review: Singham (2011)

  1. sharad1963

    This is a new perspective on Singham. I still have my DVD in packing. My friends had given it such bad reviews that I dared not to watch the movie despite liking Cop movies. I enjoyed Dabangg immensely. I will now unwrap Singham and watch it this weekend.

    Sent from my iPhone

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      As far as straight-forward cop movies go, Singham is one of the best I’ve seen, Sharad. I liked Dabangg a bit more just because it played with some typical cop movie tropes.

      Reply
  2. Shah Shahid

    I love your analysis of the “Supercop”. It’s been happening for decades and Akshay Kumar actually made his career out of being one, same can be said of Amitabh Bachchan in his younger days. Coincidently, so did Jackie Chan in his earlier days, to the extent of SUPERCOP itself. Hmm.

    I feel that movies like this appeals to the more escapist cinema goer; ones who need more masala in their lives than realism and these Average Joe’s ‘heroes’ are the cops and soldiers, while the villains are politicians and rich people. It’s a very nice allegory on India’s socio-political situation which I find fascinating.

    Here’s my, far less intellectual, review of SINGHAM.
    http://blankpagebeatdown.wordpress.com/2012/11/21/movembers-moustache-movie-madness-singham-2011-bollywood/

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      Thanks, Shahid! If one were took look at India only through the lens of its movies,it would seem that India has a schizophrenic attitude toward police officers. In Hindi movies, police are either invincible superheroes or corrupt bumblers. I liked that Rana from “Kahaani” was a more balanced depiction of a cop as a guy just trying to do the right thing. The way police are depicted in film is also related to the fact that police are the authority figures in closest contact with the general public. Judges and rich people are so far removed from everyday people that they don’t make for interesting material. Like you said, it’s fascinating.

      Reply
      1. Shah Shahid

        I completely agree. On the note of authority figures being far removed from everyday people, I just saw SHANGHAI last night. And I loved the minimalistic portrayal of Abhay Deol as a political administrator, who ends up being a whistleblower. But even that he does without grandiose dramatics, but rather in a cold and bureaucratic way. Beautifully done I thought.

        One of the better and realistic cop roles I always refer back to is Nic Cage in SNAKE EYES. I would love to see an Indian film, done realistically (none comes to mind right now) with a horribly corrupt and immoral cop (not Chulbul Pandey) who does the right thing when push comes to shove.

        Reply
  3. Vineet

    Hi Kathy,

    Again you have managed to pen down almost the same feeling which I had when I watched this movie (probably 18 months ago).

    As I did my graduation down south (Chennai) I watched so so many of such supercop movies in Tamil/Telugu/Kannada etc (with my friends doing the live translation for me of course)
    I agree that perhaps Ajay is the best of such supercops in hindi movies (Infact Mahesh Babu, a telugu superstar in my opinion is best of them all)

    The only point where I disagree is the part where you wrote “Shikre has the higher body count, but he’s not the one sworn to uphold the law. Bajirao is” As far as I remember Shikre did win elections by the end of the movie and became a member of state lower house of representatives before he was shot by Bajirao in connivance with the police department. Moral compass of most of such movies points nowhere actually, and is opportunistic in my opinion so let us not even get there.

    I think the reason such movies exist (in contrast for what you might say movies about honest, law abiding enforcers of law) is perhaps the sense of injustice within the system. A normal court case can drag for decades in India with very high opportunity for powerful and corrupt to change circumstances to suit their own needs and influence the outcome of the case (or so is the public perception), Hence the applauds for quick justice delivery mechanisms, whether it be a Robinhood Pandeyji in Uttar Pradesh, Singham in maharashtra, Mahesh Babu in Andhra Pradesh or Surya in Tamil Nadu, its the same story everywhere.

    Perhaps with time we will have more of ACP Ajay Singh Rathod (Amir Khan in Sarfarosh) or Edward Nortan in Pride and Glory kind of police officers in our movies.

    Vineet

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      Good point about frustrations with the courts, Vineet. In movies, it’s always so obvious who the bad guy is that it just seems more efficient to have the police officer take him out. You brought up an interesting point about Shikre, too. Most of his crimes were committed before he was elected to public office, so I’d argue that his obligation to the law didn’t start until he was sworn in. (Of course, I’m ignoring the fact that all citizens are supposed to abide by the laws of their country, but you get my point.) What interests me is what happens to Shikre’s criminal enterprise once he’s sworn in. Would he still order kidnappings and murders, or would those tasks all be handed off to his assistant, Shiva? What’s more important to him, protecting the office by not directly engaging in more criminal activity or continuing to make money as a criminal? Gee, I sound like I’m planning my own turn as a crime-boss-turned-politician!

      Reply
  4. Vivian

    Interesting review Kathy. Surprised you had not watched this movie when it was released. I must admit I am not a big fan of such supercop movies, be it Dabaang or Rowdy Rathore or Khiladi 786, but Singham is an exception for me. I enjoyed the movie completely and have seen it whenever its playing on television.

    The scenes that I enjoyed the most in this movie are the ones between Prakash Raj and Ajay Devgan,the dialogues,the acting are just terrific (Reminds me of John and Abhishek from Dhoom). Another thing that I remember when I had watched this movie,was the loudest applause was given to the scene when the cops were thrashing the Munister in his own office. The audiences were just loving it (including me 😛 ) For me its was one of the best movies of 2011.

    Btw, just an update. Not sure if you follow the award functions of Hindi Movies but over the weekend we had two awards fuctions that were telecast on television and Barfi! and Kahani were the big winners.

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      Vivian, you prompted me to look back through my posts to when Singham was first released, and I discovered why I didn’t see it then. It opened in the theater near my house, but it was only showing once per day at 10 p.m.! Since I’m typically in my pajamas by 7, that was never going to happen. 🙂

      I’m so happy that Vidya and Ranbir were rewarded for their efforts in Kahaani and Barfi!. They were both tremendous.

      Reply
  5. meeradarjiyr1

    Great Review! Singham is a brilliant film! Ajay Devgn and Prakash Raj truly show their acting skills! The film is compelling and has an interesting story line. Prakash Raj really plays this villain who you can’t help but like, his dialogue along with his gestures are superb!

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      Singham has his lion-paw swatting attack, but Prakash Raj plays the real animal in the movie. Raj stalks around in scenes like Shikre’s first confrontation with Singham at the Goa police station, and you don’t know when he’s going to strike. He’s so great in this.

      Reply
      1. meeradarjiyr1

        I completely agree and you have described him in the perfect way! Thanks for replying! Your reviews are great 🙂

        Reply
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  7. Sarah

    The best way to watch Singham is to think of it as a superhero story without being weighed down by morals or (much)internal conflict. I agree with most of your points but unlike you I am glad that Shikre did not threaten Kavya. Goons and gangsters threatening women the hero cares about is such a tiresome trope in cinema and they had already used it once.
    I prefer another cop film, also starring Ajay Devgn, that was released a few years ago: Gangaajal. If you have not watched it, then you should add it to your list because the moral grappling with extra judicial killings of gangsters that Singham so conveniently skips is dealt with beautifully there.

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      Thanks for the recommendation, Sarah. Like you, I’m tired of movies that put women in peril just to move the plot along. Still, it would’ve made more sense for Shikre to kidnap Kavya, when he instead kidnaps her sister. Kavya didn’t have enough to do in the film, and kidnapping her would at least have made her a more active participant.

      “Singham” is, in its own way, a superhero movie, and internal conflict and moral dilemmas are at the heart of all superhero stories. Should Superman sacrifice his powers to live a normal life, knowing that many people will die if he does so? Is a haunted man like Batman so different from the criminals he pursues? How does Spiderman go on knowing that his abilities put those he loves in peril? By setting Singham up as the ultimate, unquestionable force of good, the movie limits those opportunities for the internal conflict that all superheroes need. It sells the audience short.

      Reply
    2. Keyur Seta

      In the south (original) version, the villain kidnaps Kavya’s character. In fact, the whole climax is based on it. I am super glad they didn’t do it in the Hindi version 🙂

      Cheers!

      Reply
  8. Keyur Seta

    Excuse me for disagreeing but for me, Singham was never a superhero movie. In fact, before reading the comments over here, I had never even thought about Singham in such a way 🙂
    For me, it was always an emotional, real and inspirational saga about an honest cop, despite the silly and unreal fight scenes 🙂

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      This brings up and interesting question: what kind of character is the Indian “supercop” (as represented by Singham and Chulbul Pandey, among other police officer lead characters)? Despite his superhuman strength, the supercop is not exactly a superhero because he has no internal conflict. He’s almost a quasi-religious figure, divinely endowed with the authority to exact vengeance on earth without the morality of his actions being questioned. But where do you go with such a character? If he can do no wrong, and if his success is inevitable, how do you keep his story fresh? I don’t have any answers, but it’s an interesting problem.

      Reply
      1. Keyur Seta

        Hmm. Interesting. For me, a supercop (way different than superhero) is a strong, tough guy who wouldn’t tolerate injustice. But since he is also a human, he will face trouble but then, ultimately he will get out of it. I am talking about the Singham type of supercop. I haven’t seen both Dabangg’s and don’t wish to either for reasons I have already mentioned many times on your blog 🙂

        Cheers 🙂

        Reply
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