THERE’S PACY NARRATION. AND THERE’S PACY NARRATION AS PRACTISED BY THE DIRECTOR HARI. Oh, sorry. Did I seem to be screaming? I’ve just exited a screening of Singam 3, and I’m still trying to make myself heard. This is the kind of movie where a SpiceJet flight makes a landing and the sound engineers make you feel the runway is inside your ears.
Anyway, back to the pace. It’s evident from the very first scene, which describes the geological history of earth. First, there is one giant land mass. Then, continental drift happens. We get continents. We get borders. We get countries. We get states. We get to setting of the story. Some 750 million years of history are condensed into 2.3 seconds. That’s how Hari narrates his stories. Take the confrontation between Duraisingam (Suriya) and his wife, Kavya (Anushka Shetty). They are in Andhra Pradesh now – or maybe Telangana. It’s hard to keep track. All the cinematographic whooshing gives the impression we’re watching the movie from the inside of a mixie in coconut-chutney-grinding mode. Kavya wants to go home. Duraisingam says he has to complete his mission. He gets into his jeep and leaves. She sends him an “I am sorry” sms. He replies with an “I love you” sms. A major marital conflict is compressed into 2.3 seconds. I kept imagining Hari’s version of popular films. In his Mouna Raagam, Mohan and Revathy would be united in the second reel.
Sometimes, this pace helps. A needless item number (then again, you could ask if item songs are ever needful, and I’d have no answer) with Neetu Chandra is interrupted by shots of Duraisingam and his team carrying out an investigation. When the song isn’t memorable (the music is by Harris Jayaraj), when the choreography isn’t working, it’s good to be whisked away someplace else.
But even the scenes that need to be lingered on are given this treatment – and Saamy is proof that Hari wasn’t always this way. In that film, he gave us people we cared about, a love angle that made us smile, a comedian who made us laugh, a father whose plight made us sad. That is all we want in these mass movies, really. Some good songs. Some emotion. Some twists. Some decent comedy (Soori’s track is terrible here).
And some punch lines. Singam 3 gives us a couple of good lines when Duraisingam meets the villain for the first time, and during the climactic fight, which is staged in a forest simply so that the visual effects team can show Duraisingam morphing into a lion. (You know, in case it wasn’t evident from the title. And his name.) But a few lines aren’t enough. And with today’s leading men, the punch lines never sound punchy enough. Suriya gets a scene where he proves he knows both the Bible (“the wages of sin is death”) and Vaali (“Oru thavaru seidhaal…” from Naan aanayittal) – but these lines need more than just decibel-shattering volume. They need attitude, oratorical style, a certain kind of theatricality. (Just think of Sivaji Ganesan tossing off “I am waiting” or “Therikka vidalaama,” with that Dolby Digital larynx of his.)
Anyway, back to the pace. The story gets going with the investigation of a police commissioner’s death, and uncovers a larger conspiracy about e-waste and medi-waste that hints at Swachh Bharat undertones. (Many shots are framed around the Indian flag.) But no development, no performance is allowed to register. The breakneck editing (or maybe it’s the screenplay) results in weird segues. One moment Vidya (Shruti Haasan) is being arrested. But as she’s being led away, she looks longingly at Duraisingam, and we launch into a dream song, He’s My Hero.
Vidya is the equivalent of the Hansika character in Singam 2, a girl crushing on a married hero, just so that we get two heroines. Hari likes to have it both ways. He’ll stage duets, with Kavya in designer clothes, in foreign locations. He’ll also stage a thaali-sentiment scene at the airport. We miss the village from the first film. These masala movies always work better in rooted settings, with bright Indian colours that pop on screen. Take them to snowy peaks, and they begin to look anaemic.
But Vidya isn’t important. Neither is the widow played by Raadhika Sarathkumar, who’s wasted. The cop played by Robo Shankar doesn’t get to do much either. (He gets a laughable scene where he avenges his dead child, and this occurs 2.3 seconds after we learn he actually had a child.) None of this might have mattered if we had a strong antagonist – but a permanently pouting Thakur Anoop Singh plays the villain like a spoilt child denied a lollipop. It doesn’t help that he gets the most ridiculous entry scene in the history of screen villainy, where he’s seen in his undies. Pumping weights. Inside a plane.
Which brings us to the main problems with these mass movies. We have heroes, but no worthy villains. The last one was Prakashraj – he had the stature, the presence, the voice, the wonderful hamminess he knew just exactly how much to dial up and down. But after he got stereotyped and overexposed, our filmmakers have been searching for a replacement. They continue searching.
Then again, the Singam series is the last place to be complaining about the villain. One, it’s all about the hero, who’s lauded in India as “the most powerful officer,” and in Australia as “the universal cop.” Plus, given Hari’s filmmaking, he may not even need a villain in Singam 4. He could do a fast-forward mashup of the previous instalments, and we’d never be able to tell the difference.
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