“Singam II”… Roaring all the way to the bank

Posted on July 6, 2013


Same hero, same director – so what’s new, you ask? This time around, we have Anjali, outfitted with a doughy midriff and promoted to item girl. We have not one but three villains – a “bad” Muslim (but no worries, in these films, he’s always counterbalanced by a “good” Muslim), a black man who labels himself “King of the Indian Ocean,” and a tycoon with a fondness for shiny shirts. We have Hansika Motwani, doing her best, as always, to emulate a goldfish gasping for air. We have nods to Angry Birds, false eyelashes, brown sugar, pearl divers, a local don in Durban, a sniper on a rooftop, exploding gas cylinders, and quick-cut glimpses of so many stars that we seem to be inside a television awards show. Oh, and we have the Singam Dance, which, if the heavens are kind, won’t become a viral sensation like the Macarena or the Gangnam style. Then again, this movie got made.

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Otherwise, the overlong Singam II is very much like its predecessor, a wholesome family entertainer filled with upright moral values and penis jokes. And like the earlier film, this sequel endorses questionable practices – corporal punishment (mischief-makers not caned in school, apparently, will grow up to be delinquents caned by the police) and vigilante justice. The latter, of course, is par for the course in these masala movies, but when meted out by a man in khaki filled with the purpose and the righteousness of an avatar of God vanquishing a demon, there’s something very disturbing. But that’s nothing compared to the hero’s (Duraisingam, played by Suriya with a roar that can be heard in the outer galaxies) invocation of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in order to teach a few local rowdies a lesson. And elsewhere, he occupies himself by dispensing lectures about the Indian police, about the sanctity of the national anthem, about the purity of love. The film could have been called To Stir, With Love.

But the director Hari isn’t bothered about any of this because Singam II isn’t a movie in the traditional sense of a story told with a compelling emotional arc and shot and put together with some semblance of craft, but a theme-park ride that, once you get on, just won’t stop moving. The reels appear to be mounted not so much on a projector as a rollercoaster, and this sense of constant movement, brought about in no small part by a constantly roving camera, is some sort of minor achievement. Hari keeps his scenes extremely short, and if this prevents us from forming any sort of lingering attachment with the characters, at least we aren’t allowed to dwell on anything long enough to get bored. In Singam, we got to know the people around the hero, and they lent him a human dimension; here, these scenes with others (including the heroine Anushka Shetty) are so perfunctory, they could have been axed and no one would have noticed.

The audiences in the theatre seemed to be loving every moment, if the noise levels were any indication, and I wondered what they could be responding to – there’s no joy in the film. The mass-hero potboiler is a superb template on which to mount an entertaining movie, but it’s only a template – there’s still work to be done, scenes to be dramatically sketched, emotional trajectories to be precisely tracked, characters to be effectively outlined, songs to be imaginatively staged, fights to be sensationally choreographed. Even the dramatic emergence of Duraisingam in uniform, after an undercover mission, is fuelled more by the blare of a thousand trumpets (that’s what most of the background score sounds like) than the heart-swelling realisation that an exiled king is being reinstated on his throne. Oh, but who cares? Certainly not the viewers. Returning home, I was trapped in a traffic jam, unexpected at that hour. The reason, of course, were the cars and bikes pouring into the theatre that lay ahead, unmindful of the Housefull sign for the next screening of Singam II.

An edited version of this piece can be found here.

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Posted in: Cinema: Tamil