Cast: Ranveer Singh, Sara Ali Khan, Ashutosh Rana, Sonu Sood, Ajay Devgn

Director: Rohit Shetty

Movies are not fruits or cakes and ideally they shouldn’t be discussed in terms of “this half” and “that half”. But that’s especially difficult when writers and filmmakers treat the interval as an excuse to shift gears completely. Like “Simmba”, directed by Rohit Shetty, which, frankly, is two films for the price of one. Honestly one of those I wouldn’t pay to see anyway.

The first half of “Simmba” is a sporadically enjoyable comedy. Ranveer Singh announces his arrival as a bonafide ‘mass hero’ with the kind of entry until now reserved for the Khans, Devgans, and Kumars. In slow motion, he chases a bunch of goons through a dhobi ghat, background score swelling, water splashing, and brightly coloured clothes flapping as he lands kicks and punches that sends them flying.

Ranveer is ACP Sangram Bhalerao aka Simmba, a cheerfully corrupt police officer whose default mode is OTT. So even when he’s greasing his palms or swooping in to conduct a raid, he’s singing, dancing, hamming, and wisecracking his way into your hearts. There’s seldom a dull moment when he’s on the screen, and every dialogue that leaves his lips lands successfully. “Hello, bhai from another aai,” he declares, aligning himself with the film’s villain Durwa Ranade (Sonu Sood) who pays him handsomely for cheating helpless old men out of their land, and turning a blind eye to his drug operations.

His best moments, however, are the ones with head constable Mohile (Ashutosh Rana), an upright fellow who is sickened by his senior’s lack of conscience. The pair share a tentative relationship, and the makers mine genuine humor from their scenes, including a joke about drinking on the moon, and a spin on the song Tu hi re from Bombay.

Until this point “Simmba” is lightweight but inoffensive. Ranveer has created a likeable lout in the titular character, gleefully embodying the cliché of the Bollywood hero while also clever enough to laugh at it. It’s a deliciously silly performance that will disarm even his toughest critics.

But, the film becomes something else in the second half. A ‘rape-revenge drama’. A popular genre in the 80s and 90s that one hoped one had seen the last of. But I can picture Rohit Shetty and his writers defending it – if rape hasn’t stopped, why should we stop making movies about it? That misguided logic yields a predictable plot turn. A young girl is raped; our hero grows a conscience.

Even this would be only mildly problematic if the makers didn’t strain for relevance. If they didn’t offer an irresponsible ‘swift-justice’ solution with the justification that “even women think it’s the best punishment”. Or parade a clutch of women to invoke the vigilante in us when they ask: “What would you do if it was your sister?” The scene that follows – a cringey encounter in a police station – perpetuates warped notions of masculinity.

For a film that claims to be committed to the cause of women, it’s ironic that the heroine of the movie has precious little to do. The spunky Sara Ali Khan, playing an orphan who runs a catering service across the police station where our hero is posted, has perhaps five scenes in total, and four of them are in the first half.

Ajay Devgan gets more screen time in a special appearance; he shows up as Bajirao Singham – and before you accuse me of giving out a spoiler, let me remind you he’s in the film’s trailer!

There’s more, but I won’t ruin it for you, and it suggests that Shetty is interested in creating an Avengers-style universe of cop-superheroes who’ll show up in each other’s films. It’s not a bad idea. But let’s just hope the stories become better.

“Simmba”, a remake of the Telugu blockbuster “Temper”, is ultimately one part “Dabangg”, one part “Singham”, and many parts frustrating old-fashioned 80s melodrama. The best thing about the film is the conviction Ranveer Singh brings to it. He fills out the khaki uniform nicely, delivering both punches and punch lines with feeling. Even in the less satisfying second half, he breaks tense moments with an irreverence that’ll make you cheer.

I suspect this film will polarize viewers. There will be those who will enjoy the broad-strokes storytelling and gladly submit to the overt manipulation. Others might have a problem with the irresponsible messaging. No points for guessing which lot I belong to.

I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five for “Simmba”. The film leaves a lot to be desired, but a star is re-born.

Rating: 2.5 / 5