Singham carries a lot of hype and baggage with it. Originally made as the Suriya starrer Singam in Tamil, the film was dubbed in Telugu as Yamadu, re-made in Kannada as Kempe Gowda starring Sudeep, as Shotru with Jeet in Bengali and has proved to be a blockbuster in each language. Naturally, expectations are that the Hindi version will be the biggest and best version of them all. And above all, it boasts of the highly successful director-actor team of Rohit Shetty and Ajay Devgn at its helm.
Straight off, if you love to sit back and enjoy a throwback to the nadir of mainstream Indian cinema, the 1980s, with what are termed as escapist, larger than life paisa vasool films, in other words a cocktail of items - action, romance, comedy, emotion, hard-hitting dialogue in turns with what do they call it... aah... leave-your-brains-at-home-entertainment, then Singham is the film for you. Otherwise, it could be the most excruciating 2 hours 20 minutes of your life. Especially, if a good human story dealt with warmth and sensitivity, all held together with well fleshed out characters, mature, understated acting, a coherent and intelligent narrative flow, some truly touching moments, all aided by complimentary yet unobtrusive cinematic craft, is your cuppa tea. Let's just say, a subtly brewed healthy green tea with anti-oxidants this isn't but a kadak chai with loads of masala, doodh and shakkar thrown in!
The only way to review a film like Singham is really to see if it gets its value for money factors right. There's little to analyse cinematically otherwise in a predictable action oriented tale of good v/s evil with each area clearly demarcated as ghostly white and the darkest black with no grey in between whatsoever. And it's tough not to compare, having seen the Tamil version, which, it has to be said, that even within its masala format, did benefit from its treatment and script, its blending of its items (barring the inane comedy track) - the romance, the action, the drama into quite a coherent whole, further helped by its racy pace, its feel for effectively using locales particularly in the small town and the characterizations, especially of its protagonist - the reluctant cop who only joined the police force because his father wanted him to, making him human and vulnerable as well. If it failed, it did so primarily in its making, looking like a bad 1980s film.
The Hindi version falls flat for me as many of the elements that succeeded and were integral to the story in the Tamil film have been done away and the changes in Hindi are not for the better. Also, many of the sequences used from the original are very poorly executed like the scene when the Inspector takes charge of his new posting. The scene in the busy and crowded Chennai Police Station and Suriya feeling lost as he enters it after the comfort of his small town cop station is brilliantly executed in the Tamil version, while here it is a damp squib.
In any case, even if one had not seen the original, Singham would have disappointed me. Barring the action (admittedly executed well enough even if full of compositing, wiring work and CG), some of the confrontations between the hero and villain, which in their own dramatic way work quite well, and the few 'punch' dialogues, the film, trying to mix elements of Dabangg as well, fails to add up as all the other departments are there just to fill up rest of the story. Even a masala film must have the right items in its various tracks to be well executed. But here, the screenplay is weak, the romantic track is insipid and hinders the flow of the film, much of the comedy track is unfunny, the songs are no-nos both in terms of composition as well as picturisation, the hero's characterisation is superhero-like and too, too one dimensional. The climax simply leaves you gobsmacked as the film falters terribly once Singham has got his transfer orders. But at the same time, it has to be said our audiences are quite undemanding regarding our films and the fight sequences, good v/s bad confrontations, the punch dialogue, some of the playing-to-the-gallery sequences like planting repeated kicks in the backside to the corrupt politician will be enough for them to whistle, clap, and enjoy themselves, and this was indeed the case in the theatre. So, undemanding masala lovers will clearly enjoy themselves.
Coming to the performances, the central twosome of Ajay Devgn and Prakash Raj manage to hold the film somewhat together. Devgn scores as expected in the intense, brooding scenes and the action sequences but falls flat in the romantic ones. In any case, Suriya is a tough act to follow (even Aamir was not as good as him in Ghajini) and this is the second time after Yuva/Ayutha Ezhuthu that Devgn finds himself a distant second to the Tamil superstar. Prakash Raj hams it away but his manic energy still helps him through. Kajal Aggarwal suffers from a sketchy role and is, to put it simply, disastrous as is Sachin Khedekar as her father. His comedy track is cringe-worthy. Ashok Saraf and Sonali Kulkarni manage to make their mark among the supporting cast.
The technicalities are average at best. As mentioned repeatedly in this review, the film seems to have spent most of its energies on its action sequences and you do feel an element of storyboarding and planning has gone into them, once conceived, and they are among the highlights of the film.
All in all, you could come out of Singham having had enough of a blast, or be simply numb. What's certain, however, is that with the heady success of Wanted, Dabangg and expected blockbuster business for Singham as well, the 1980s are back in Hindi cinema, like it or not.