Ranveer Singh, who played a degenerate king in the January release Padmaavat, drops the curtain on 2018 as a rogue police officer in Simmba. Rohit Shetty’s latest comedy-laced action film is supposed to be an official remake of the 2015 Telugu blockbuster Temper. But apart from the broad story arc, a few key scenes and lines and the only half-serious background chant of “Police! Police!”, Simmba is a watered-down version – more Distemper than Temper.
In the Telugu Temper, Jr NTR plays Daya, an orphan who learns early on that the best way to earn money and respect is to become a policeman. Daya’s swagger is not hampered by his lack of a spine. He is happy to serve a villainous brood until a woman’s rape and murder pricks his conscience. A machismo parade pretending to be a women-friendly movie, Temper is packed with insouciant comedy, over-the-top notes, bone-crunching action and quick-fix vigilante solutions.
Puri Jagganadh’s Temper always keeps its amoral anti-hero in the centre of the frame. In Shetty’s film too, Ranveer Singh has the stage to himself for the most part. But a voiceover by Ajay Devgn, who played the honest police officer Bajirao Singham in Shetty’s previous films, is an early warning sign that Singh isn’t going to be allowed to have all the fun. Singh’s Bhalerao Sangram, aka Simmba, is from the same town as Singham, but he is not quite as loyal to his badge. Simmba is a compromised police senior inspector who is happy to ignore real crimes as long as he gets paid off by drug smuggler Durva (Sonu Sood).
A line in the movie describes it as “Dabbang meets Hum Aapke Hain Koun”, but until the interval, it’s actually Bajirao Mastani meets Golmaal. Simmba’s tomfoolery marks him out as a clown in uniform. “Mind ijj blowing,” Simbba frequently says in a Marathi accent (30% of the dialogue is in Marathi), and his buffoonish ways allow him to win over Shagun (Sara Ali Khan).
Simmba has a pliant bunch of assistants, a patron and a woman who runs a catering service. What could go wrong? The rape and murder of a woman who regards Simmba as her brother wipe the oafish grin off his face and replaces it with a grimace. Simmba’s eyes well up in sadness and anger, and he begins to suggestively tap his gun holster. In a scene that is replicated from Temper, Simbba finally earns the respect of police constable Mohile (Ashutosh Rana), who has refused to salute Simmba out of disgust at his grubby-handed ways.
The movie never quite recovers from Simmba’s transformation into India’s foremost protector of woman. The hyperbolic humour and nihilistic action from Temper are replaced by a moral science lecture but not enough examples of Simmba’s prowess. He even needs Singham’s help in his big moment of retribution. One wishes that Shetty had trusted the original material enough, rather than trying to combine Simmba with the Singham productions and create a superhero-type universe populated by policemen who walk in slow motion and break the law when it suits them.
Simmba falters badly when it tries to be a meaningful social drama with a message that rings out as loud as the background score. The post-interval portion is packed with platitudes about the safety of women, an eyebrow-raising depiction of a fake encounter in a police station, a recommendation that rapists must be given the death penalty, a candle-light vigil and, for good measure, a mention of the 2012 Delhi gang-rape. The suggestion of a sequel in 2019 that will combine the characters of Bajirao Singham, Simmba and a third movie star leads to a diluted and unconvincing payoff.
Ranveer Singh’s energy and flamboyance ensure that Simmba appears more engaging than it often is, and Ajay Devgn’s well-timed cameo rescues the film from being a write-off. Simbba is all about its male movie stars. Sara Ali Khan has fewer scenes than some of the other characters, including Siddharth Jadhav as a member of Simmba’s posse. The movie has no use for her Shagun – so much for being on the side of women.