In one of the scenes in Rohit Shetty’s Simmba, Ranveer Singh, who is a morally corrupt cop before turning into an anarchic one, is seen beating a man guilty of raping and murdering a young woman. As he kicks and punches the goon black and blue, Singh is heard chanting, “she was my sister, she was my sister” before he’s restrained from killing the guy.
That one scene encapsulates how problematic Simmba is.
This is a movie that views women only in the context of their relationship with men, even when they are literally unrelated.
This is a movie where women are helpless beings whose honour and dignity are violated and restored by men.
This is a movie that sees no irony in blaming and shaming an elderly woman character for raising her sons the ‘wrong way’ because they turned out to be rapists and murderers.
This is a movie where there isn’t a single female character with more than 15 minutes of total speaking time, even if you account for the entire duration of the movie.
This is a movie that propagates violence and anarchy as a rightful means to seek justice.
This is a movie where a cop actually guilt-trips a sessions court judge by suggesting what if it was her daughter who had been raped.
The sentence ‘rape hua hai, rape’ is repeated so often at varying decibel levels that it loses its effect and begins to feel like a commercial trope exploited by a filmmaker who doesn’t sees the multiple layers of irony in his own movie.
So basically, Simmba is a recycled version of one of those problematic 80s Bollywood potboiler where the angry young man turns into a violent vigilante for women who exist solely to be protected from other men. So obviously, it’s likely to become a blockbuster, because in India, patriarchy never goes out of fashion.
For Singh’s Simmba, every female character is a maa-behen-beti or a potential biwi. And Shetty’s idea of women empowerment is having stock female characters who supplement the man as he goes about redeeming his past sins by turning into a saviour.
In fact, the male saviour complex is so severe in Simmba that not one or two but three men of varying stardom finally occupy the screen, delivering sermons about women safety and using it to justify extra judicial killings as a legitimate means of securing justice.
While Simmba exists within the paradigm of the conventional masala Bollywood movie, it embodies and celebrates archaic and discarded ideas, without any sense of interrogation or self-reflection. Sure, the movie is interested in making points about the judicial failure of the country but suggesting that the only other alternative is to turn into an anarchic state instead of examining the failures of the legal system is juvenile and regressive.
What Shetty is doing, and he’s well aware of it, is catering to populist rage and giving it a violent outlet through Singh’s endearing character. But retribution, it has been established, isn’t justice, only a sterilised version of revenge.
And well, if you can leave aside the film’s fundamental problems, which you shouldn’t, Singh delivers a performance he was perhaps born to do, an exaggerated version of the over-the-top public persona he has adopted.
Sara Ali Khan, last seen only weeks ago in Kedarnath, has precious little to do and is reduced to packing dabbas. In the film’s second half, one almost forgets she’s even in the movie and that’s a shame. The actress should learn from the success of Alia Bhatt (she chose Highway as her second film) and the mistakes and failures of Parineeti Chopra, once a promising actress who, in the quest for mainstream recognition, disappeared in an abyss of forgettable roles in even more forgettable films.
There’s also Ashutosh Rana, who hams so hard, it feels like his character is on the verge of having a fatal brain haemorrhage. Sonu Sood, the film’s main ‘villain’, is appropriately cast and Shetty ensures the camera zooms in on his bloodshot eyes when he wants to cue 'emotion rage'.
But ultimately this is a film designed solely for Ranveer Singh who delivers a performance so loud it can only be described as an antithesis to his beautifully understated act in Lootera. This is the kind of film that’ll instantly turn him into a single screen superstar, similar to what the Dabangg films did for Salman Khan. It’s the kind of role that elicits claps, wolf-whistles and WhatsApp forwards.
As for the treatment, Simmba is alarmingly boisterous and woefully loud as Shetty’s visual style is unapologetically 80s, with the frenetic pace of a Southern potboiler.
Right from the melodramatic dialogues and tragic backstories (poor orphan becomes a petty thief and corrupt cop before atoning himself for past misdeeds) to the dated directorial style (when Singh beats up a rapist, the scene cuts into flashes of the murdered woman. Because of course.), this is practically an 80s film repackaged for the WhatsApp generation.
At times, the film feels so ridiculously tacky and bad it actually becomes good in an ironical way. Most will say it’s a leave-your-brains behind kind of an entertainer, but hey, you have a brain for a reason, so don’t leave it behind but maybe use it and make the decision of leaving behind the movie instead.