Simmba Movie Review: Rohit Shetty-Ranveer Singh's masala movie only works when not aiming for resonance
Simmba is a boisterous masala movie that should have stuck to the humour and buffonery instead of detouring into social commentary
Commercial cinema lives in a cage of its own choosing. In a recent interview with us, a director of standard-issue Hindi horror films rued about the critical reception of his movies. He complained that critics unfairly pick on the repetitive use of ‘jump-scares’ and ‘creaking doors’ in his films, arguing that such devices are indispensable to the genre. Such a line of defense crumbled under scrutiny, especially in a year that saw inventive horror films like Pari, Stree and Tumbbad. Yet there was a genuine anger in the man’s voice that seemed to fascinate. When pointed to the above films as exceptions, he trailed off in the usual direction: “Well except for Stree, commercially speaking….”
Rohit Shetty is the crowned king of the marketspace many such filmmakers claim to operate in. He too has experimented with horror in the last Golmaal movie, but a large chunk of his reputation as a commercial hit-machine is built upon the success of the two Singham films. He has become synonymous with growling, chest-thumping, hyper-uproarious cop dramas — a brand of cinema that has persisted through the ages no matter what thrown its way.
In Simmba — a boisterous Singham spin-off starring Ranveer Singh — Shetty whips out some really old toys: a likeable rogue/cop-killer hero, a drug-dealing villain played by Sonu Sood, a Goa-as-sin-city backdrop and a blasted rape-revenge plot milked to extremes in the present climate. The combined impact of these clichés (“devices”) is so grotesquely overbearing that it compels the viewer to make a choice: either submit unconditionally to the buffoonery or tap the hell out. There's really no other way.
Cast: Ranveer Singh, Sara Ali Khan, Ajay Devgn
Director: Rohit Shetty
Sangram Bhalerao (Ranveer Singh), a corrupt police officer hailing from Shivgadh, takes charge of Miramar Police Station in Goa. He is initially turned into a lapdog by local gangster Durva Ranade (Sonu Sood), but the brutal rape and murder of a medical student by Ranade’s brothers forces Simmba to mend his ways. How? By staging a swift fake encounter of the perpetrators instead of letting the slow justice system do the work.
Now nobody expects a populist social catharsis film to respect protocol, but you would at least wish the motivations were better written. Instead, here, a rape victim goes from being called “beti” to “desh ki beti” in order to extract sympathy for the film’s ethical conundrum, and the only solution to ‘heinous masculinity’ is proposed as, you guessed it, ‘righteous masculinity’. Simmba is a decent enough commercial film when not angling for resonance — with some of the funnier lines really popping out on screen — but its self-serious orations on the topical issue of rape make a parody of the whole situation. Also, as weird as it may sound, the hero is only motivated to pick up the gun when reminded that the girl he likes had an ‘encounter-specialist’ father. Make what you will of that, you silly Freudians.
Newcomer Sara Ali Khan, playing the aforementioned female lead, is refreshingly laid-back in a performance far more effortless than her debut attempt. Her character Shagun (meaning, 'good omen') is shown initially torn between two guys: Dheeraj (meaning, 'patience') and Simmba ('lion cub'). Being a masala film heroine, she makes the obvious choice and gets two songs, both remixes. Ashutosh Rana plays a character who can be dubbed the film’s tragic relief. He is an aging constable who can't pay for his daughter’s classes, but won't stop driving Simmba up the wall for greasing his fingers. Rana brings a mute dignity to a common filmy archetype — that of the old, grumpy constable who holds his salute till the end — and wins us over with ease.
Ranveer Singh is his usual, exaggerated best in Simmba. He exudes the frantic overexcitement of any millennial actor brought up on mass movies, and is too happy to finally lead in one. He swerves over the screenplay and finds odd details to play with — like going back to pick up his shoe to whack a bad guy with. In one scene, he goes to raid an after-hours rave party and walks down with a no-nonsense gait. You expect him to start bashing people up but instead he breaks into a slow dance, hopping and grooving up to the stage and pulling the plug on the music.
Simmba is a film that pulls the plug too soon. More of Ranveer’s harmless rumpus and Marathi inflections needed to go on, and it's rather weird to see his energy fizzle out towards the end, when the film becomes an obnoxiously overblown courtroom drama. A female judge, played by Andhadhun-fame Ashwini Kalsekar, opens her proceedings by teasing the defence lawyer about his newfound media popularity. She seems like the discerning type, until you see her get manipulated into extending a hearing date over an inadmissibly emotional (shall we say ‘mass’?) appeal.
When things run into a ditch, the judge calls upon a “neutral officer” to come oversee the case. This officer (Ajay Devgn back as Bajirao Singham) comes splintering down in an SUV to save the day — and it is exactly then that you are reminded of that original feeling: You either belong in the Rohit-Verse or you don't. A self-effacing Karan Johar cameo either excites you or it doesn't. The catchphrase "tell me something I don't know" in a script so flatly predictable either makes you smile or squirm. And — most alarmingly — a post-credit tease about a future film either makes you roar or crouch in your seat with anticipation. There is, really, no other way.