Tag Archives: Singham

The Crisis of Faith in A Flying Jatt

There are a lot of interesting moral lessons under the glossy, colorful surface of A Flying Jatt. One aspect that has stuck with me since watching the fun superhero movie is how the film portrays the main character’s struggle with his religious faith.

The religiosity of characters is underplayed in Hollywood films in general, but it’s especially absent from the backstories of Hollywood superheroes. Their powers come from science (Spider-man) or space (Superman) or magic (Doctor Strange). Rarely are their powers divine in origin, with perhaps the exception of Thor.

In contrast, all of India’s celluloid superheroes — few as they are — have ties to the divine (I confess, I don’t remember Drona‘s origin story). Krrish‘s powers came from an alien, but the hero’s name is a derivation of Krishna. The villain in Ra.One is a creation of science (as is the hero, G.One), but his name is a play on the demon Ravana. Their stories are explicitly related to Hinduism.

A Flying Jatt is even more overtly religious than the Krrish films or Ra.One in that the hero’s powers are divine in origin. When threatened by an evil industrialist (played by Kay Kay Menon, also the villain in Drona) who wants to tear down a tree that bears a Sikh Khanda symbol, Aman (Tiger Shroff) prays to the tree for help. In a subsequent fight with the industrialist’s goon (played by Nathan Jones), Aman is slammed against the tree. A light shines, and the Khanda symbol is branded onto Aman’s flesh. Then lightning strikes, imbuing Aman with superpowers and launching his foe far enough away to give Aman time to master his new abilities before a climactic showdown.

What’s significant about Aman’s story arc is that, before the miracle at the tree, Aman doesn’t identify as religious (to the chagrin of his pious mother). He keeps his hair short and his face shaved, and he refuses to wear a turban. He eschews all the outward signs of his family’s Sikh faith.

When the industrialist first comes calling, the families who live in Aman’s neighborhood head to the tree to pray. Fearful Aman would rather sell the land — tree and all — to avoid a fight. He only prays at the tree as a last resort, when he’s out of ideas as to how to protect himself and his mother.

Even when Aman finally understands what has happened to him, he still hesitates to embrace his faith. His mother begs him to wear the turban that belonged to his father, himself a brave, pious man. Aman refuses, saying that he will only wear it when he feels that he can do so whole-heartedly. His skills and resolve are tested along with his faith, and only before the final battle does he choose to wear his father’s turban and the beginnings of a beard.

Aman’s doubt is important because rarely do we see any Hindi film characters at all questioning their belief in the divine. Religion is a part of virtually every Hindi film, especially since the lines separating culture and religion in India are blurry to non-existent. A character’s faith gives him context, defining his relationships to other characters and his place in the community. Thus, it’s a foregone conclusion that most characters in Hindi films are religious.

In a terrific article about Indian superheroes, Sankhayan Ghosh paraphrases mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik, who believes that “there is no place for angst” in the Indian idea of heroism. To have a Bollywood character with superpowers doubt not only himself but his belief in God is a big deal.

The thing about faith in the divine is that it requires belief in the absence of physical proof (unless you are Paresh Rawal’s character in OMG: Oh My God, who meets God in person). But even with the physical proof of a Khanda branded on his back and an array of superpowers at his disposal, Aman still hesitates. Like everyone else, his belief has to generate from within.

It’s a thoughtful message, and it relates to another theme in A Flying Jatt. Aman’s brother (played by Gaurav Pandey) tells Aman that the real heroes are those who fight injustice without the aid of superpowers. Aman’s crisis of faith extends that idea further, letting the audience know that it’s okay for normal people to have their doubts about God. If a guy who has been literally touched by the divine can be unsure, how much harder must it be for those with no concrete proof?

Too often, Bollywood heroes are shown as being infallible and above moral judgment. Ajay Devgn’s Bajirao Singham is allowed to break the rules of a democracy because he’s supposedly an instrument of divine justice — a mortal man who can fix all of society’s problems in whatever way he sees fit, no matter the collateral damage (this was especially a problem in Singham Returns). A Flying Jatt‘s Aman isn’t like that. He’s a protector, not an executioner. It’s refreshing to see a relatable Bollywood hero who appeals to the better angels of our nature rather than our base thirst for vengeance.

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Streaming Video News: May 2, 2016

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with four new additions to the catalog. Well, four re-additions, actually. After a prolonged absence from the service, Besharam, Bodyguard, I, Me, aur Main, and Singham are back. Their return (sort of) offsets the recent expiration of Kill Dil, Shahid, and Shuddh Desi Romance.

Streaming Video News: November 7, 2014

I just updated my list of Bollywood movies streaming on Netflix because a couple of movies are about to leave the service. Joker (2012) and Singham (2011) will both expire on November 14, 2014. If you have to prioritize your viewing this weekend, I’d pick Singham over Joker.

Bollywood Box Office: August 15-17

Singham Returns got off to a terrific start, turning in the fourth best opening weekend for a Hindi film in North America in 2014. Over the weekend of August 15-17, Singham Returns earned $654,054 from 127 theaters in the United States and Canada ($5,150 average), according to Box Office Mojo.

Singham Return‘s performance is significantly better than that of its predecessor, 2011’s Singham. In its opening weekend in North America, Singham earned $161,063 from 50 theaters ($3,221 average). During nine weeks of release, Singham earned a total of $350,864: a figure that Singham Returns nearly doubled in its first three days in theaters.

For a second week, the distributors of Entertainment failed to disclose their U.S. box office returns. We do know from Bollywood Hungama that the comedy earned $27,281 from 17 Canadian theaters, bringing its total in that country to $123,195.

Given that Akshay Kumar’s earlier 2014 release, Holiday, earned about 26% of its total North American gross from Canada, let’s assume that the $123,195 Entertainment earned in Canada represents 26% of its total haul as well. That would put Entertainment‘s total North American earnings at approximately $473,827. Fingers crossed that we’ll get the official figure someday.

Two other Hindi movies ran in the U.S. and Canada over the weekend:

  • Kick: Week 4; $19,102 from 14 theaters ($1,364 average); $2,398,097 total
  • The Lunchbox: Week 25; $1,652 from four theaters ($413 average); $4,033,909 total

Sources: Box Office Mojo and Rentrak, via Bollywood Hungama

Movie Review: Singham Returns (2014)

Singham_Returns_Poster2 Stars (out of 4)

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The release of Singham Returns on Independence Day in India feels wrong. Rarely does a movie try so hard to be patriotic but feel so cynical and almost anarchistic. When a country’s political, judicial, and religious leadership is depicted as so corrupt that the establishment of a police state seems preferable, the problems are far too big for one man, even if that man is Bajirao Singham.

While Singham is supposed to be a morally perfect dispenser of divine justice, he advocates a system in which he and his fellow police officers are judge, jury, and executioner. His methods are themselves criminal, so Singham relies on sympathetic politicians and reporters to turn a blind eye. It amounts to a conspiracy to protect an unelected individual who has assumed the ability to decide life or death.

Maybe it’s just that the release of Singham Returns comes at the end of a week in which an unarmed teenager in a small town in America was killed by the police in public, and that the protests that followed were greeted by police with tear gas, sniper rifles, and the imprisonment of skeptical politicians and media members. Whatever the reason, the solutions offered by Singham Returns seem terrifying.

Following his successful cleanup of Goa in 2011’s Singham, supercop Bajirao Singham (Ajay Devgn) is promoted to Mumbai. His former teacher, Guruji (Anupam Kher), wants to eradicate political bribery and has a slate of young reform candidates poised to challenge in the upcoming elections.

In order to keep the black money flowing, corrupt politician Prakash Rao (Zakir Hussain) and the crooked evangelist Babaji (Amole Gupta) threaten Guruji and his candidates. But Singham won’t allow such intimidation on his watch.

Like all Bollywood supercop characters, Singham’s only character flaw is that he’s unmarried. Apparently, every character who carried over from the first movie to the second has forgotten about Kavya (Kajal Agarwal), Singham’s fiancée from the first movie, who is never mentioned.

Instead, Singham is fixed up with Avni (Kareena Kapoor Khan), the sister of one of the candidates. The totality of Avni’s character is that she is irrationally jealous and eats a lot. This is an embarrassing role for an actor of Kapoor Khan’s talent.

Kher and Pankaj Tripathi — who plays one of Rao’s goons — give two of the film’s noteworthy supporting performances. Dayanand Shetty is also entertaining as Singham’s big deputy, Daya.

Devgn’s performance is fine, but his character is not. Singham quickly resorts to violence when provoked, and his wrath is indiscriminate: directed at obvious villains, but also at their victims and brainwashed minions. He lashes out, even when it hurts his moral standing in the community. He advocates the murder of those he deems guilty, independent of any judicial system.

Sure, there are plenty of explosions and enough fights to make you wonder if director Rohit Shetty bought his “slap” sound effects in bulk. Singham Returns isn’t boring. It’s just hard to cheer for a superhero who seems so undemocratic.

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Opening August 15: Singham Returns

Ajay Devgn’s Singham Returns opens in the Chicago area on August 15, 2014. The followup to 2011’s Singham features Kareena Kapoor Khan as the female lead, replacing the original film’s heroine, Kajal Agarwal.

Singham Returns opens on Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, Regal Gardens Stadium 1-6 in Skokie, AMC Showplace Niles 12 in Niles, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville, and AMC Loews Woodridge 18 in Woodridge. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 22 min.

Entertainment and Kick carry over at MovieMax, South Barrington 30, and Cantera 17.

Other Indian movies showing at MovieMax this weekend include Buno Haansh (Bengali), Anjaan (Tamil), Sikander (Telugu), Lovers (Telugu), Run Raja Run (Telugu), and Jigarthanda (Tamil).

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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