Tuesday, 6 October 2015

"Singh is Bliing" (Guardian 04/10/15)

Singh is Bliing *
Dir: Prabhudheva. With: Akshay Kumar, Amy Jackson, Kay Kay Menon, Lara Dutta. 140 mins. Cert: 12A

Bollywood can be a confusing place. All parties involved are insistent that Singh is Bliing [sic], a goofy comedy starring Akshay Kumar as a beturbanned toughnut named Singh, has nothing whatsoever to do with 2008’s Singh is Kinng, a goofy comedy that starred Akshay Kumar as a beturbanned toughnut named Singh. Yet the similarities of tone and title are such one wonders whether some behind-the-scenes legal finagling has obliged the new film’s creatives to adopt an alternative trajectory. There is, after all, a fair amount here with which you wouldn’t want to be associated: even by Kumar’s lowly standards, it’s pretty inane stuff.

Kumar gave a laudably serious, committed performance in August’s prominent flop Brothers, but his follow-up looks very much like a reversion to give-‘em-what-they-want type. Singh 2.0 – the raffish Raftaar – is a touch Sandlerish: an inveterate party boy, introduced flunking a zookeeper gig. Dispatched to Goa by despairing parents, he’ll eventually assume some responsibility as protector to Sara, daughter of a marked businessman; she’s played by the pouty, Isle of Man-born Amy Jackson, another of those English-speaking Bollywood performers who appear never to have spoken a sentence of English in their lives. (Her slo-mo emergence from the ocean in a Baywatch-red swimsuit suggests the producers had other reasons for casting her.)

Director Prabhudheva’s idea of comedy is broad and very much soundtrack-led. Limping gags are punched up with incessant use of the penny whistle; barely a scene passes without someone having a flowerpot or bottle smashed over their head, or – introducing a more exotic note – a coconut slammed into their unmentionables. Right from the title’s extra “i”, everyone’s overcompensating for a lack of substance and sense: I could understand the second-act inclusion of Sara’s quest to find her mother – it offers the illusion of sincerity – but the running non-joke about her sleepwalking translator is anyone’s guess, and stop-offs in a damp Romania scream either “tax incentive” or “directorial concussion”.

Everything gives the impression of having been thrown together on the spot: it’s amateur hour, stretched over three. This Singh, never more than a succession of bright headscarves, makes his predecessor in Kinng seem fully rounded; the action looks under-rehearsed; the songs, composed in a key of screeching pastiche, are dire. What’s most confounding isn’t, ultimately, the film’s status as sequel or standalone; it’s the relentless vapidity, which defies all known laws of physics. There it is on screens across the country, around the globe – so it must exist in some form – but there’s so little to it, and so much of that. It is, whatever its genesis, a big nothiing.

Singh is Bliing is now playing in cinemas nationwide.

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