If the 142 minutes of Rohit Shetty’s latest release, Singham Returns, is anything to go by, then one thing is unequivocally clear: Shetty is not a filmmaker; he’s a businessman. And lest you get me wrong, let me clarify: I find Shetty’s lust for money admirable. He’s also brilliant at it. Besides Singham Returns, he’s made nine films in his 12-year directorial career, of which four have gone on to earn more than Rs 100 crore at the box office. You can’t ignore these numbers because you can probably slot one blockbuster film or, perhaps at the most, two as flukes, but not almost half-a-dozen films. His last film, Chennai Express, earned in excess of Rs 225 crore (the third highest domestic grosser of all time). So Singham Returns should be analysed — or God forbid “judged”— for what it is: a product manufactured to make money. And given the film has just released, we won’t know the results now. The clout of a film at the box office can only be measured in a week’s time. By then, if the film earns a profit, Shetty would have succeeded, if not, which is quite unlikely, he could well begin to question himself, something he hasn’t done in years now.
You can’t comment on or be put off by the intellectual vapidity of a film like Singham Returns because it’s not striving to be smart. Neither can you castigate it for being formulaic because films like this one hinge on a strict three-act structure, one that has been used by Indian filmmakers for ages: Act I introduces the honest cop; Act II showcases the tussle between the hero and the villain (almost always a venal politician); Act III unfolds when the cop finally vanquishes his enemy. But you at least expect a film like Singham Returns, mainstream fare that unabashedly exploits the tropes of popular Hindi cinema, to not bore you. Singham Returns does. Because it lacks the fundamental madness that so joyously underlines most well-made masala films. When vacuity meets forced earnestness, the final result is often exasperating. Singham Returns is an example of that weary and, at its worst, tedious mash-up. The film is also so self-serious at times that it leaves you befuddled. More so because it’s not even attempting to say anything new — it situates itself in the same universe as its predecessor (Singham), to milk its success, and there can only be that much novelty in a film that revolves around caricatures that trot out tired truisms. Sure, cinema is public art that thrives on and needs an audience, and this film uses every trick in the book to be financially viable. However, its box office success could have been a little more dignified had this been a film that recogonised and revelled in its own silliness, and worshiped its protagonist (the “hero”) without any inhibition. It’s qualities like these that, for instance, made Dabangg, a film that celebrated its box office trappings, delightfully loony and enjoyable.
What’s really disappointing about this film is that it makes assured actors, such as Amol Gupte and Zakir Hussain, look inept. They are saddled with cartoonish lines, and their mannerisms are so overblown that they always appear to be acting. The film’s constantly thudding background music is also no different. To compensate for its lack of originality, Singham Returns has a slew of narrative elements that seem like indispensable items on a checklist — a romantic subplot, a funny sidekick, a supportive girlfriend, nosy reporters. Almost nothing in the film is inventive or heartfelt and, consequently, of any value. This film feels like, to quote Fight Club’s nameless narrator, “a copy of a copy of a copy”. On exiting the theatre, I couldn’t help but wonder if Rohit Shetty has ever tried answering these questions for himself: how does it feel to create something that’s not an output of your own convictions, but derives its form from what someone else likes (in this case, the all-knowing, discerning public)? How does it feel to analyse your work’s worth solely in numbers? How does it feel to produce a photocopy and call it a film?
An edited version of this review was published at The Sunday Guardian.