•  Punam Mohandas
    •  14 February 2019
    •  438

    'Simmba': Sense and Success

    The journey of a masala potboiler

    With a release date of 28 December 2018, Rohit Shetty’s ‘Simbba’ had, by the following Friday, crossed the 150 crore mark according to trade analyst Taran Adarsh. It became the fourth highest grosser of 2018, trailing behind ‘Sanju’ ‘Padmaavat’ and ‘2:0.’ This year, the Khan superpower failed to impress audiences, with Shah Rukh’s ‘Zero,’ Aamir’s ‘Thugs of Hindostan’ and Salman’s ‘Race 3’ all delivering duds at the box office.

    Shetty, who has now earned the monicker ‘Ro-HIT’ Shetty, is being hailed as Bollywood’s blockbuster king, being the only film director to have delivered eight consecutive hits in the 100 crore range. So, what made ‘Simbba’ work when so many others failed? Apart from the obvious of performers such as Ranveer Singh and Ashutosh Rana, it is a director with his finger firmly on the audience’s pulse, as Shetty has so ably proved. He has long been criticized by his own industry colleagues for making masala, commercial films, but, as he himself states: “It’s a complete entertainment package; my target has always been the family audience.”

    Secondly, the undoubtedly spot-on quality in the dialogues have much to do with the film’s success. Farhad Samji, who has previously been the dialogue writer for many of Shetty’s films, seems to have a knack of divining what his director wants. As Shetty said: “Farhad started with me, it’s been an association of 10-11 years with about 11 films. It’s a collaboration of all of us - me, him, two or three of my AD’s.”

    ‘Simbba’ has whistle-worthy dialogues and pulls out all the stops in the first half. Reminiscent of the Kader Khan school, there are plenty of one-liners in the clever puns or ripostes and Farhad Samji, in an exclusive interview to the SWA, made his own unequivocal one-liner by going on record to state that the (late) Kader Khan, the master of one-liner punches, has been one of his biggest influences and inspirations.

    Cleverly, just as with ‘Singham’ previously, the flavour and tonality is Maharashtrian, almost guaranteeing the movie to be a surefire hit in Maharashtra at least. That said, I saw this movie in Kolkata where typically, the women are more decorous and ladylike and yet, more than the men, it was the women hooting and clapping in this movie (and this is before it meandered off into rape and women-heavy statements) each time Ranveer Singh delivered his punch-heavy lines. This proves in no uncertain terms that a one-liner carries more weight and retention power with the audience, notwithstanding the fact that actors pat themselves on their backs for delivering page-long dialogues in one take; for example, a new-at-the-time Tapsee Pannu stated that she mugged a page of dialogue for the courtroom scene and yet, what audiences pan India have carried away from the film ‘Pink’ is the one-liner: “No means no.”

    ‘Simbba’ deals with two pertinent social issues – corruption in the police force and rape. Admittedly, while the first half has been handled in a racy manner, post interval the film lags slightly, as it has veered off wildly into the Nirbhaya rape territory, with a lot of pontificating about violence against women, leaving the audience befuddled as the movie changes its focus. Don’t get me wrong – the rape angle and the corrupt-cop-seeing-the-error-of-his-ways was plausibly done. It’s just that the preaching gets too heavy to handle and the one-liners discernibly cease. By itself, rape is a heinous enough crime without dragging in the Nirbhaya case in an attempt to wring empathy out of the audience; subsequently, this led to much maar-dhaad of the baddies. Shetty may not have had flying cars in this one, but he sure had goons flying from all sides, till one got disinterested and lost count!

    Notwithstanding this criticism, the movie is continuing to perform at the box office. What should one deduce from this? Why are the Khan movies not working anymore – is it that the writers are banking way too much on Khan/Kumar/Kapoor power? After all, Samji had earlier written and directed (along with his brother) ‘Entertainment’ with Akshay Kumar, which was such a sorry specimen of cinema that it is small wonder it tanked! Is it that Rohit Shetty, being the son of a master stuntsman, has risen from the ranks as it were and, as such, has his finger firmly on the common man’s pulse? Shetty claims that he fears to experiment with a small film or indeed, any other kind of genre, as he feels that would be cheating his audience and their money, as they have come to have certain expectations from his style of film making. One may have silly moments in a Shetty film, but it never digresses into lewd territory and, the fact that ‘Simbba’ was passed by the Censor Board without a single cut is testament to that. Realism be damned: Shetty is confident enough himself to show us movies from a bygone era that the elite today call crass, loud, masala, et al; these were the kind of movies that we have grown up on, that entertained us and made us forget all our problems even while the part of our brain still working said uh, huh, this can’t be happening, dude; the kind of movies that kept us on the edge of our seats to the accompaniment of cheap popcorn and the rustle of chips packets!

    This year, a lot of smaller-budget films by directors bold enough to experiment with off-beat themes, have hit the bulls-eye unerringly, to wit, ‘Badhai Ho,’ ‘Bareilly ki Barfi,’ ‘Andhadhun’ and suchlike. ‘Simbba’ remains the only Bollywood offering in the latter half of 2018 to have an A-list director (Shetty) and A-list actor (Singh) at the helm and go on to strike gold at the box office. It could also be that a certain amount of honesty goes a long way in ultimately adding value to the final product and for the audience to gauge the film maker’s intention, as well as to earn goodwill from the industry. ‘Simbba’ was touted as the official remake of Junior NTR’s ‘Temper’ but this is not strictly accurate; Shetty states that only “ four scenes were inspired” by ‘Temper’ but he felt it would be, “more ethical to obtain the rights of the film.” 

    The success of Simmba has ensured yet again that the genre of masala potboilers is capable of tackling serious issues in an audience-pleasing manner. If the screenwriter's ability to make the audience chuckle, can be backed by an engaging storyline and the right superstar, the results do show at the box-office.

    Punam Mohandas is a film buff, a journalist, an author, an accomplished travel writer and an expert on South Asia. She also writes columns on film personalities. She has lived and worked in India, Dubai and Bangkok.