Review: Hari's SINGAM 2 Stoops To Ridiculous Lows To Entertain The Masses

J Hurtado, Contributing Writer
There is a concept in South Indian cinema, specifically Tamil cinema, known as "class vs. mass." The idea being that some films are made for urban, presumably more upwardly mobile cinema-goers in great population centers like Chennai and Madurai, and are made for "class" audiences who see films predominantly in large multiplex auditoriums. 

Other films are made for more rural, and theoretically less sophisticated, film fans in the countryside who will typically have one single screen cinema in their town; these are the "mass" audiences. The divide is fairly great, but the films that land on either side aren't always depicting the audience at which they are aimed.

For example, two years ago in 2011, there was a lot of chatter about the "mass vs. class" showdown at Diwali between AR Murugadoss' 7aam Arivu, starring Suriya, and Velayudham, starring Vijay. The former was made by a filmmaker who has frequently attempted high concept films, and occasionally accomplished his goals. Murugadoss' Ghajini (also starring Suriya in it's Tamil incarnation) was a massive hit that led to the film not only being remade in Hindi -- in that version, it broke box office records -- but the Bollywood remake was also helmed by Murugadoss. 7aam Arivu, about a circus performer who discovers that he shares a bloodline with Bodhidharma, the inventor of martial arts, and becomes involved in a web of international intrigue and terrorism, was a "class" film depicting modern, urban living with hints of Tamil history and patriotism thrown in.

Velayudham, on the other hand, was very much a "mass" film. Vijay, also known as Ilayathalapathy VIjay (Ilayathalapathy means "Young General"), is the ideal mass hero. He has average looks, average build, and average talent, but he fights for what is right and in every one of his films he is morally incorruptible and upstanding. These heroes are the pulse of mainstream Tamil cinema. While Suriya has his fair share of "mass" films under his belt, he straddles the line between the two worlds, while Vijay is forever locked into the mass hero stereotype.

Like most of the world's mainstream cinema, India in general and south India in particular are in the business of wish fulfillment. In America, this concept usually boils down to impossibly good looking people solving complex problems. In India, however, the stakes are higher and the thresholds lower. Suriya's Singam 2 is a troubling reminder of just how different Tamil and south Indian culture is from other places in the world. That is not a condemnation of the industry or the people, just an observation based upon this film and the lengths to which it is willing to go to gain the moral high ground and entertain its audience. This is a decidedly "mass" film, one that addresses and revels in rural Tamil Nadu's culture and problems.

The original Singam was the story of police officer Duraisingam (Suriya), an officer in Chennai who takes on a local crime boss with nearly superhuman strength and intelligence. The film strings together a number of thrilling action sequences and a charismatic performance from Suriya in order to make it one of the most entertaining Tamil films of 2010. The sequel follows Duraisingam in a secret mission to shut down gun smugglers in the rural coastal town of Tuticorin. While undercover as a school military coordinator, he unearths a bigger plot involving international drug lords and the typical police collusion with criminals found in most south Indian films revolving around police matters. Singam must step in and shut down the drug trade before his hometown comes under the thumb of the drug dealers and vicious gangs.

So far, so good. There is nothing unusual about any of that. Tamil and Telugu films often tackle this subject. With great swaths of the population involved, either as victims or aggressors, in police and political corruption, the subject is an easy target for filmmakers. It is the approach to the material that is still, even with dozens of these films behind me, shocking and occasionally off-putting. The filmmakers, and by extension the appreciative audiences, seem to condone reckless violence, vigilante justice, and in this case abhorrent racism in the service of justice. Perhaps it is just a result of my having lived in politically correct America for my entire life, but I think that many audiences outside of the Tamil culture would probably be shocked at what they see here.

The lead villain, an African drug lord named Danny, has spent the last 12 years of his life on the sea in international waters keeping authorities at bay. For some unknown reason, he decides that the best reason to disembark from his yacht for the first time in over a decade is to attend a party held by a shipping mogul in Tuticorin. As one might expect, it doesn't go so well and Danny is arrested, but not without drawing the ire of the impossibly patriotic Duraisingam by insulting Indian police and their virility. 

The rage that seethes in Duraisingam against this foreigner brings on some of the most shocking racism I've seen in a film in a while. Danny is referred to as both an "African monkey" and an "African animal" by Singam (the hero of the film and the person with whom we are supposed to side), without missing a beat. Singam isn't an anti-hero, he's a hero's hero. He's the man, everyone in town looks up to him, it is his moral compass that the city abides.

This is a troubling ideal. I'll let slide the fact that in the film the only path to order, in Singam's eyes, is martial law. I'll let slide the fact that he routinely executes criminals in the streets as a method of intimidation. I'm even tempted to let slide the condoning of corporal punishment of school aged children as Singam informs a parent that if the teacher doesn't beat their child into submission now, it'll be the police beating the child later. It is the radical stripping of humanity from the villain not for his deeds, but for his ethnicity that stuck out. Everything else is understandable from the viewpoint of a frustrated population who is sick of rampant corruption and crime, but this is completely without context.

If only the racism stopped with Danny, but it does not. * Indian movie stars are often made up in layers upon layers of makeup to lighten their complexions; however, not all actors are so "lucky." If you see a dark skinned man in a south Indian film, he is one of two things, either (a) a thug or "goonda," or (b) a servant. The case in Singam 2 that stuck out most was that of a servant in the family of Duraisingam's fiancee, Kavya. Though any number of goons would've qualified. Santhanam, a Tamil actor frequently cast as comic relief in films, belittles one dark skinned man after another to the approving laughter of my cinema audience, not to mention the "slant-eyes" he makes when pretending to be Chinese when avoiding a team of goons on his tail.

This goes completely unnoticed in native Indian film reporting and criticism; I'm not entirely sure why.

I don't think that writer/director Hari or Suriya are the venomously racist people that the characters on screen portray. Perhaps the only way that Hari could think of to convey Singam's rage at Danny was to have him reduce the villain to a subhuman entity with words. I really don't know. The fact of the matter is that it makes me uncomfortable when this is the hero, the role model, the ideal to which cinema audiences are looking. 

The film itself is no great shakes, with brain-jarringly erratic cinematography, often in the hands of Go-Pro cameras attached to all manner of vibrate-y moving objects, embarrassingly terrible English line readings, and numbingly unexciting dance numbers, Singam 2 is not a good film. However, even if it's not good, does it have to be so fucking mean?

* UPDATE 7/10: Sentence removed for outdated information
Around the Internet:
  • balasubramanian kumaravel

    For people down south the world view is limited and such usage is common and sometimes even without malice.I have seen people say "avan korangu mathiri irrukan" (he looks like a monkey)against Africans not even knowing that it is racist . They are not bad people and i don't think a layman watching the movie would even know that what Surya mouths in this movie is blatantly racist.

    But what bothers me is people like Suriya and the director himself who are supposedly well traveled and educated allow such dialogues .
    For all the below posters defending the movie , please take a closer look at yourselves and sometimes it is better to accept the fact that few things are unacceptable in the modern age and world and change accordingly.

    The villain in any movie abuses the police and it does not mean the police and that too our hero should stoop to such low levels. Even if what the villain says "Indian dogs"is racist does that mean the hero(one who little kids must look up to) has to say "African korangu".?

    All said and done India is a country obsessed with fair skin tone and the numerous fairness products promoted by the stars themselves are a testimony to it and that is undeniable.

  • Vix

    Most Tamil films are racist. The dumb fucks who have commented below do not actually understand what the review is about. Also I am from Chennai and let me tell you glorification of white skin is so ingrained in the society here. The racist comments in the movies, not only this one are propagating backward thinking and this has become quite the norm in new films nowadays. Somebody needs to tell this to those bullshit film makers.

  • Karthik

    In "Django unchained" there is unlimited use of N word by white actors very explicity!! Okay agree you say that film glorified blacks it was alright!! Okay what way did Singam 2 deglorify blacks?? To be honest they show South African police (many black officers) helping him around. He just swore at a criminal who was messing about police in general and called him a monkey!! He did not call him a monkey cos he was black (btw thats racism) he called him a monkey cos he was messing about drug dealing!! He would have called any drug dealer the same (be it a chinese, pakistani, russian, amercian!! ) He did not go and call all South African police as monkeys you moron!! Had he done that thats racism!! So stop making an issue out of nothing!! Do you think the Danny sapani himself would not have watched the film??

  • Kartik

    GO TO HELL YOU STUPID !!
    If you are in a so called perfect political country, just be there and stop talking bullshits . . !! Its India - a holy democracy !! There is a force that always binds us together !! Perched yourself farther away and commenting ILL on your country of family origin is treason !! What the hell you guyz doing there? You guys lost your identity, heredity, culture, tradition just for the damn money and now doing mockery !!

    If you really doesnt like the way things happening here just return to India, preach you ideals if at all theres any, make a revolution and see the change. Otherwise just close your ****ing mouth and start appreciate the things the way they are.

    People enjoyed the movie - its a 'hit' you dammit !! We dont take home any of the movie's story or message - If its happening then India would be free of corruption and crimes after watching director Shankar's movies. Its just 2.30 hrs entertainment !! Just throw away all your solemn views about it and dont peek your nose here !!

    Just stay inside your prefect political home !! Nobody cares or will care about you here!!

    Thanks

  • J Hurtado

    I have removed the sentence referring to Aryans/Dravidians. It changes nothing about my opinion of the film or its unnecessary racism. For the record, Danny calls the Indian police names because HE IS THE VILLAIN. We are supposed to hate him, he invites that hatred through his actions. We are not supposed to hate the hero.

  • roshan

    Hindi Dubbed version of this movie also released simultaneously in North India.

  • john

    fine.
    i just hate ignorance being perpetuated either by the movie or by you.

  • Abigail thirunavukarasu

    seriously you don't know how to write a review...everyone has different taste, therefore your taste might not match up to the taste of others. Although you make a point that the movie does not make up to the standards of what is expected, that gives you no right to disgrace amazing actors and directors. It is their duty to create something that us is up for the viewers to watch. A fan will not care if the movie is good or bad, all they would care about is that their hero/idol have starred in the movie. They would also say that if this movie wasn't the good there is always going to be a next/different movie which is going to reach out to the viewers. To some viewers this movie would be up to their taste, to others it will not be, it is hard to find a movie that has a element that everyone adores.

  • Arvind Srivatsa

    Well Danny started it but the African monkey seems too much when taken out of context, Danny does say "Fucking Indian police" and also that he wants "the indian dog killed" he even goes to say that when he throws money the cops come running behind him, well how come that Indian dog and other insults against the indian justice system is accepted. Its all in the context. The reviewer should focus on the movie and not draw unneccessary conclusions about race and soceity, but later in the movie you see Singam behave with equanimity with the south african cops who were mixtures of races so it just shows his respect towards the justice systems and anger towards a criminal who is destroying lives of countless people and also disgracing the Indian Justice system

  • Mickie

    Kudos to you! Brilliant Review.

  • Anand

    The movie is a Dud except for some bits here and there. Santhanam comedy is OK to some extent. The movie dags on and on with silly fights. Overall a pain to watch.

  • Aditya

    Heights of hypocrisy. People here are so offended by the author's Aryan-Dravidian reference, but seem to be willing to condone far more offensive instances of racism in the movie. Funny how jingoism can mess up people's minds.

  • john

    no one is saying his racist comments in movie are OK.
    just that author's is hypocritical when he's promoting same type of racism.

  • Stopper

    God ! who are you? What do you understand of Indian movie and what made you eligible to write a review on it.(I am sure some Idiotic fellow would have supported you some extent to understand to make it worse). But you should stop this

  • Suriyada

    I'm sure Hari would have not even thought about this aspect! Suriya would be the last person to do such a thing! Cheap ways to try to bring down the popularity of an actor! #Pathethic

  • Jaguar Lives

    Well I, for one, am super grateful to Josh, and Twitch, for covering Indian action cinema on a popular, mostly Western, movie site. Kudos all round. I don't see AICN, Badass Digest or HitFix doing that. If Indian readers could, politely and reasonably, add any insights or gently point out any errors (newsflash: it's not easy to understand everything about India's movie culture, or India, when you're not Indian) then I'd be even more grateful. And if this had been a sequel to Ajay Devgan's Singham I'd be happier still. But it's not, and I'm going to have to find a way to deal with that.

  • john

    nobody suggested that it's easy for a non-indian to understand it.

    what we're suggesting is that if you don't understand it perhaps you shouldn't draw wild conclusions and speculations and make an effort.

    this is not a sequel to Ajay's because Ajay's movie was the remake of the first part of this movie, Singham.

    Ajay will probably (maybe not) remake this movie as Singham 2 as well.

    honestly i'm glad the other sites don't cover these movies.

    they're mostly shite and i'm embarrassed for the world to see it and associate indians w/ it.

  • Yaamunan

    Dude rubbish review...Ur from America and ur saying racism is more in India?? Its thr every whr...And Singam is only bitching about some one tht insulted India and Indian Police..He does not go out of the way to call the villian with racist words...Wht Danny was shown doin was racism insulting Indians so does tht mean all Africans r racists..Dude get a life...And try to be practical..OH GOD u shud definitely join the media for u alone can blow something so small this big...Once again GET A LIFE....

  • john

    upon reading the review a bit further i do agree w/ you.

    indians by and large are very racist.

    there is a culture of fair-skin worship and dark-skinned condemnation.

    in fact if you look at bollywood you'll see that majority of the people don't look like normal indians.

    you begin to wonder if you're even watch an indian film or a wester/middle eastern film.

    they find the whitest people they can.

    and it's absolutely disgraceful.

    thankfully in south it's not yet changed that drastically but in north it's especially bad.

    if you did not know this about indian films i'm really surprised.

    racism is prevalent in pretty much all of them.

    you have to realise that india is very homogenous and very very backwards in terms of equality and respect.

    women are still treated like shit and racism (against each other i don't know if that counts as racism) is incredibly prevalent.

    and india is by and large homogenous so a black person being disrespected like that comes as no surprise to me or should it to any other indian person.

    i share your sentiment though and i wish it would change.

  • Abigail thirunavukarasu

    not all Indians or Asians are racist...you talk about the minority of the people that stand out...the majority are decent and well raised. You hear and pick out the minority and judge the entire race

  • john

    i'm not saying non-racist indians don't exist.
    i'm jut saying the culture is largely white-worshipping.
    else fair and lovely wouldn't be top brand for years would it?
    i'm also not saying that the indians who do the white worshipping are violently racist or anything, just that their perspectives will favour them towards white skin.

  • john

    also hurtado,

    the 'class' and 'mass' thing is not a pure 'south indian' idea.

    actually before the 2000s, all of india had relatively same type of movies.

    but after diaspora of NRIs, Bollywood began to cater to them w/ more 'class' movies.

    Heightened glamour,better production values overall, more complex story lines (well that's more recent and not really all that complex) because indians abroad had higher expectations.

    Whereas majority of southern movies have relatively smaller market and majority of their revenue is in India so they did not make such a drastic change since they had no need to.

  • shiva_eswaran

    Even I was bit shocked when Suriya says that dialogue in the movie , may be because he was too irate when Dany insults Indians and particularly Indian police. They should have avoided it though. As others mentioned you've to learn a lot about Dravidian and Aryan theory , this theory is slowly debunked. Aryan invasion theory is present only in school history books and Lefties written history books.

  • john

    Btw the "Aryan" is just a word that means noble in India.

    it has no racial connotation.

    the aryan invasion myth was created by an idiot who surmised that some skulls found in an excavation sites must have been result of a war b/w indians and indo-europeans.

    it was later found that the skulls were from a different time period entirely.

    Around 1800 BCE, signs of a gradual decline began to emerge, and by around 1700 BCE, most of the cities were abandoned. In 1953, Sir Mortimer Wheeler proposed that the decline of the Indus Civilization was caused by the invasion of an Indo-European tribe from Central Asia called the "Aryans". As evidence, he cited a group of 37 skeletons found in various parts of Mohenjo-Daro, and passages in the Vedas referring to battles and forts. However, scholars soon started to reject Wheeler's theory, since the skeletons belonged to a period after the city's abandonment and none were found near the citadel. Subsequent examinations of the skeletons by Kenneth Kennedy in 1994 showed that the marks on the skulls were caused by erosion, and not violent aggression.[79]

    source:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/...

    seriously, if you don't know anything about India why are you reviewing it's movies?
    and if you're going to review them, just stick to the movie.
    no need to add your personal bullshit.

  • john

    > The Dravidian people of Tamil Nadu are darker skinned than the northern Aryans. T

    what the fuck.

    you dumb ignorant racist fuck.

    apparently the film isn't the only racist one but you are as well.

    modern day indians are a mixture of 2 genetic lineageas:

    ANI and ASI.

    ancestran north indian and ancestral south indian.

    all indians are different degrees of mixes of these 2 genetic lineages.

    you find dark people in north as well but you find a higher percentage of fairer people because of recent Middle eastern incursions.

    shut your mouth about shit you know nothing about and stop propagating racist dogma perpuated in the fucking 1800s by Brits.

  • lakx

    "The Dravidian people of Tamil Nadu are darker skinned than the northern Aryans. The movie stars are often made up in layers upon layers of makeup to lighten their complexions".

    What rubbish. Dravidian is just a language group, not a race. Indian people are a mixture of many many races. The movie star is really fair skinned like many other tamil heroes like Kamal, Ajith, Vikram, Karthi, Karthik etc In fact almost all heroes before Rajnikanth were fair skinned like MGR, Sivaji Ganesan, Gemini Ganesan etc. Ironically the dark skinned Rajnikanth is a Marathi speaking north Indian. FYI Majority of south Indians are also fair skinned. Majority of the IT people in US etc are south Indians and obviously majority of them are not dark.

    Just as in any place in India, even in south the color varies with the caste, which is really based on race. More lower caste people are darker than the higher caste people. For e.g Majority of south Brahmins are very fair, while majority of lowest caste people are dark.

    The reason for the myth that south Indians are dark is due to the fact that

    1) most of the working class are lower caste people, majority of whom are dark.

    2) south India is a peninsula and the ocean mist works as a good tanning lotion. So even a fair skinned person in south India who spends lot of time out doors gets a dark tan due to the humidity and high temperature.

    Except some states in northwest most of Indian states, including majority of north sates, have significant dark skinned people.

    I do not even want to discuss the Aryans but would like to mention that north Indians are made up of many races and the most significant of them are Austric race(aborigines) and mongoloid race, due to the Mughals(mongols), shakhas, khushans etc who were from the regions north of India. In fact north indians call their house Ghar and the mongol nomads also call their tent Ghar. So please stop publishing your racist myths on internet.

  • Anand

    Ajith is hardcore Aryan - Mom a Sindhi and Dad - Brahmin (Aryans), Kamala hasaan - Aryan (Brahmin), Gemini Ganesan- Aryan, MGR - Part Brahmin - Aryan even he is other half a Nair (who too are considered Aryans) Karthi is dark skinned Vikram is bit fair (but looks like he has some skin disease) And by the way what is wrong in being dark skinned? You seem to be having some kind of guilt conscience .

  • john

    Aryan does not mean northern or fair.
    Aryan means noble. It has no racial connotation.
    Anyone can be Aryan.
    Stop reading AngloSaxon racial superiority propaganda.

  • mk

    Oh my god! What an observation!

  • ganesh janakiraman

    You are Fucking racist by all means..!! Go fuck yourself

  • john

    lot of this is not based on fact though reviewer is certainly propagating false notions.

    colour vaires not based on caste but by class.

    if you spend more time working outside, you're going to come out darker.

    and there's also genetics.

    genetics is a crap shoot.

    there are millions of combinations so you can be darker skinned or lighter skinned and it's not necessarily based on caste.

    in north india a lot of people are fair because of middle eastern mix which is true.but all of india is made up of mainly 2 lines of heritage:indian (called dravidian by academics, a term i dislike since it means Tamil and obviously Tamils don't define original Indians) and indo-european.

    for more google, south asia archaeogenetics.

    the wiki is quite informative.

    the ghar thing is just a coincidence most likely though hindi is not a pure indian language as it is a mixture of arabic/perso/turk and sanskrutam derivative.

  • AM

    I just want to say that - in at least one of his previous mass movies, Surya would have definitely abused a fair-skinned North Indian villain as 'Vella Panni' - meaning white pig.

    The people watching these movies don't seem to mind the racism they are watching, doesn't matter if the villain is black, white or brown, a way will be found to insult his race by the dialogue writer.

  • john

    yea that's india for you.

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