“Singham Returns,” which comes on the heels of 2011’s “Singham,” is not a movie. Rather, it is an experience, in which director Rohit Shetty’s vision of a tight-panted, tight-shirted, bemuscled Indian police officer in mirrored aviator shades is hammered home with all the sublety of an alcoholic uncle at an open-bar wedding reception. Fully thirty percent of the movie is just Ajay Devgn walking in slow motion toward or away from things as deafeningly dramatic music plays. Another twenty percent of the movie is musical numbers, including a pre-intermission music-video sequence in which love blossoms between Devgn’s Singham and Kareena Kapoor’s Avni. There is also, at film’s end, the requisite Bollywood musical finish, featuring Indian hip-hop and an army of children dressed as Singham and chanting his signature “Now I’ve lost it!” catchphrase (complete with fingers-to-the-head-I’ve-gone-crazy sign language).
“Now I’ve lost it” might, as catchphrases go, lose something in the translation from Hindi. Still, it makes sense, in context. The Singham Formula is typically that Singham, the one good cop in a world full of corruption, must endure a great deal of tribulation before he finally snaps and decides to go outside the system to seek justice — and by “go outside the system to seek justice,” I mean “murder people.” Singham is, in fact, a terrible cop (if terribly honest), who has a tendency to foment riots by beating the wrong people (following a ten-minute slow-motion walking-toward-people sequence in which the beating is foreshadowed by a choral recitation of his theme song). After one riot in particular, Singham saves the day by ordering a good, old-fashioned Indian police lahti-beating, a crowd control technique that really is used in India in which police officers with long wooden poles beat the snot out crowds to, you know, make them fall down. Rarely is a mass lahti-beating played for patriotic fervor, but by all that is elephant-headed and holy, it is here.
“Like a lion walking in the city,” reads the English translation of Singham’s theme song, “that destroys everything in his path… Friends, fighting with him is like challenging the mountain… He is not lesser than anyone; he has great power… and the body starts to shiver when there is news that Singham is coming.” Buildups like these are, if two movies can constitute a tradition, very much, uh, traditional. In, you know, Singham. Truly, Singham only gives, never takes. And by never takes, I mean never takes bribes. And by gives, I mean gives beatings. Mostly by slapping people with his patented tiger-claw pimp-hand.
Also part of the Singham tradition is the way in which these movies typically end, which is, “Singham commits murder with the help of most or all of the police force.” I’m not actually giving anything away by telling you that. The movie also features some fairly gratuitous cartoon physics, in which people can be viciously beaten, even shot, and really just feel kind of mildly chastened by the experience — that is, until Singham starts making tiger-claw motions at them. And make tiger-claw motions he does, accompanied by tiger’s roar sound effects (which occur whenever he slaps people down, which he does at the slightest provocation).
I can’t encourage you strongly enough to watch “Singham” and “Singham Returns.” The latter is a slow boil that is badly paced and sometimes confusing (especially given the inaccuracy of the English subtitles). It is, however, worth the wait, and will have you humming the Singham theme whenever you’re not doing anything with your brain (and whenever you are accused of corruption). Now I’ve lost it… and you should, too.