Whether people want to accept it or not, the Tamil cinema-going demographic is definitely changing, and types of movies that were once considered the staple of Kollywood are not so worthwhile anymore. The decline of the masala movie, in both quality and box-office gross, provides ample proof of this fact. While a few decades ago, people accepted anything that was dished at them in the name of masala, nowadays people want a bit more spice to go along with their gravy, and only the most entertaining films of this type can survive anymore. That would explain why movies like Vettaikaran, Asal, Sura etc. have been below-average grossers even though they featured top-billed heroes. Singam is the latest entry into the genre, and though it is as old-fashioned as masala can be, it is also better in many regards to the aforementioned titles making for a decent, watchable masala movie.

Singam is also the third movie featuring the combination of Surya and director Hari. Their first movie Aaru was an out-and-out bloodbath with no positive aspects whatsoever; also, it was quite possibly one of the weakest entries into both their portfolios. The pair partially redeemed themselves with Vel, which in itself was nothing to write home about, but the fact that it was also infinitely better than Aaru was relieving. Singam keeps that upward curve intact. Although the movie suffers from sluggish pacing with the first half being quite slow, the energetic and fast-paced second half more than makes up for that and, on the whole, it should prove third-time lucky for the pair.

Duraisingam (Surya), the S.I. for the village of Nallur, is just about the perfect do-gooder cop in every sense. He single-handedly fights and stops thieves fleeing the village with the temple gold, solves family feuds peacefully without any bloodshed, and, in general, performs the entire gamut of actions one would expect from a Tamil film hero. The customary love-interest is Kavya (Anushka) who is on a vacationary visit to the village and, as usual, falls for the heart-of-gold hero, and after a bit of sparring finds that the feeling is mutual. As is traditional, the villain is as bad as the hero is good: Mayilvaganan (Prakash Raj) is the name to fear in Chennai and his main claim-to-fame is extortion. For the initial third of the movie, the two go on about their routines quite peacefully, but the expected clash between them occurs soon when one of Mayilvaganan’s extortion attempts goes horribly wrong. The would-be-victim of the crime chooses to hang himself rather than coughing up the expected payoff. This forces Mayilvaganan to show himself and sign a police register, at Nallur obviously, for a period of 14 days. Subsequently, Mayilvaganan is humiliated in Singam’s hometown where the latter holds court and the former’s power is of no use. Singam is then promoted and transferred to Chennai, where he decides to cleanse the city of all its criminal elements including Mayilvaganan.

Don’t be surprised if the story produces a vague sense of déjà-vu. Singam borrows liberally from both Surya and Hari’s previous cop movies – Saamy and Kakka Kakka, more so from the former. Like Saamy, the villain has considerable control over the entire city before the hero enters and brings him back down to earth; moreover, certain scenes where Singam uses brain rather than brawn to outwit Mayilvaganan feel a bit too much familiar for comfort. However, what I found most surprising was how much the movie reminded me of Thirupaachi. Like that movie, this one is essentially a tale of two halves. The first is slow and drawn out trying to focus on the relationships between the hero and the supporting characters. It contains a good mixture of comedy, sentiments, and over-the-top action all of which serve the singular purpose of setting up everything for the second half. And, as was true with Thirupaachi, the payoff in the second half, where the villain gets his comeuppance, is entirely worth the painfully slow first half, featuring lots and lots of action intended solely to get our pulses racing. (As an aside, I also found it disappointing that there was no flashback linking the hero and the villain since the movie builds up for it by showing a close-up of Prakash Raj’s face every time the town of Nallur is mentioned.)

Surya has pretty much grown into the masala stereotype over the years. For an actor who had difficulty just emoting when he started out, he can now deliver punch dialogues left and right, and actually make them matter also. When compared to some of his contemporaries, his gruff voice and powerful facial expressions effectively bring out his rage to palpable levels. This means we are not entirely dismissive, as we would be with others, when he spouts out something like “Adichcha ondra ton weight da!” Anushka, who has already shown her acting capabilities with Arundhatee, has a by-the-numbers role which she is suited for. Though it has to be mentioned that her expressions in some of the serious scenes are much better than other heroines, and she is one of the few actresses who can pull off both traditional homely dresses and modern glamorous dresses perfectly. Prakash Raj is a bit disappointing because he remains subdued during most of the movie. One wonders whether he would’ve been right at home if he had provided us with one of his over-the-top, hammy performances. Vivek’s comedy is easily the weakest link in the trio of comedy-action-sentiments essential for a masala movie to work. The comedian seems intent on forgetting his origins and style of comedy, and instead tries to imitate Vadivelu for the most part. However, his poor and unfunny track only serves to highlight what the latter did in a similar role (in Marudhamalai) not too long ago. The senior cast consisting of Radharavi, Vijayakumar, Nasser, ‘Nizhalgal’ Ravi, Sumithra, Manorama, and a few others do exactly what is required of them, but this is Surya’s movie through-and-through; of that, there can be no doubt.

Devi Sri Prasad’s music was less-than-inspiring to begin with, and the movie does nothing to change my opinion. Naane Indhiran… and Singam… are the usual, generic hero-centered songs, though the latter sounds better. En Idhayam… and Stole My Heart… are traditional romantic numbers, while DSP also recycles Vaa Daa Mappilai… from Villu to provide Kaadhal Vandhaale… The interesting point to note in Stole My Heart… is the similarity it shares with Adiye Kolludhe… from Vaaranam Aayiram in terms of picturization. Whether the director intended it as spoof or not, I do not know but it is certainly noticeable. Another noteworthy aspect in a few of the songs is the amount of censoring, which I found confusing more than anything else. Note to the censor board of India: if you are going to censor it, do it completely and remove all that you find vulgar; don’t remove only the close-up shots when everything in the long shots don’t remain hidden.

Singam is essentially the best kind of summer movie – one we can watch to pass away some time in the summer heat and then forget about. Not one aspect of this movie is going to stick to the head, and neither is the director aiming for it. With high-profile masala titles failing to strike any of the right notes, Singam provides some old-fashioned fun for people who want nothing but that.