Ranveer Singh, Sara Ali Khan, Ajay Devgn
Rohit Shetty

Sangram Bhalerao has the word ‘Police’ tattooed on his forearm. This is not, as I first wondered, to remind the assistant commissioner what he does, but instead to exult in the power it gives him. Simmba, as he is nicknamed, grew up focussed on being a corrupt cop, and — played by a relentless Ranveer Singh — he appears to be loving it. Singh bites his lower lip while chasing crooks, as if turned on by his own valour, and walks with an odd crotch-first strut, as if a giant magnet is yanking his belt buckle, or his zipper.

This is a spinoff of Rohit Shetty’s alarmingly successful Singham movies, and I had called the first film “Devgnporn,” based on its fondness for crotch and caboose shots of its tight-trousered hero. In Simmba, with a cutesy title pointing out the cub of a lion king, Singh seems less concerned about his look than his feel. He embraces the trashy 80s-remake lunacy with gusto, creating a corrupt wisecracker more Deadpool than Devgn.

Singh beats people up as if he really, really wants to, and the dialogues fly out of his mouth as if he’s making them up. Most of these — like a play on the word ‘farz’ which can mean both duty and example, or when he calls someone his “bhai from another aai,” or turns a cop’s name into a song about drinking — earn solid laughs, and Singh’s glee is infectious as he bounds from scene to scene, simultaneously invincible and inflatable.

Ranveer Singh dials up the intensity in Simmba.

He then falls for Sara Ali Khan. It is love at first leer as the cop ogles the young girl from across the street. The actress is good here, attractive and atypical. I wish she had more to do, though, than dreamily talk about her late father, the legendary ‘encounter cop.’ Over and over again, she fetishizes the act of staged brutality.

The laughs dry up. Based on the Telugu potboiler Temper, Simmba takes an inevitable turn for the serious. This could have been disastrous, given how much Shetty telegraphs his actions. You can not only predict the inescapably horrid fate awaiting the local girl who Simmba starts calling his sister, but you know how the hero will kick the doors open or precisely when he’ll earn a salute from the honest policeman. Yet Singh dials up the intensity, cheeks a-quiver and invective punctuated by spittle, and the show stays compelling.

Simmba remains Rohit Shetty’s best work to date.

This is Shetty’s best work, a film of unflagging tempo with a genuinely charismatic lead, and while the actual story — about a bad cop who starts avenging rapes — isn’t interesting or original, Shetty keeps it entertaining, albeit longer than it should be. We can debate the need for these throwback films, and there is indeed a problem with the way rape is used as a trigger for the leading man to turn good, but, as it stands, Simmba is not only ahead of Singham, but far superior to Dabangg, the blockbuster that defines the genre.

Shetty plays at balance, giving decisive roles to female characters — judge, mother, policewomen — in a film that claims to be about rape, but this film is still all musk. Sonu Sood makes for an effective towering villain, while Singh pats his gun so long and hard that the film briefly turns into a Western. By the time Simmba meets his idol, the homoerotic energy is off the charts: two grunting men who look ready to tear each other’s uniforms off and throw down right there, drunk on their own testosterone.

At the end, we’re teased with the glimpse of another hirsute alpha male joining this franchise next year. These men don’t need women. The sequel could be called Threesome.

First Published: Dec 28, 2018 10:50 IST

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