By Poulomi Das Dec. 28, 2018
With Simmba, Rohit Shetty reduces rape to a buzzword in an exaggerated comedy to prove that his cinematic universe isn’t all nonsensical. Ranveer Singh almost elevates this testosterone-fuelled drivel into surprisingly entertaining fare, but only until a woman is violated for him to realise his true calling.
Rohit Shetty’s Simmba stands out for making no attempt to mask the fact that it is supposedly a film about women empowerment – helmed by men who have no idea what the term really entails. It’s the kind of film that believes that the only problem Indian women face in 2018 is feeling unsafe while returning home alone at night. And so Simbaa, inspired from the 2015 Telugu film, Temper, proudly reduces the act of violence against women into a mere plot twist.
The film’s plot is a staple of the Rohit Shetty Cinematic Universe (RSCU) – filled with flying cars and macho men – a world that is referenced unabashedly, just like statements such as “Rape hua, rape” are invoked mercilessly throughout the 160-minute-long Simmba. In the film, Simmba (Ranveer Singh), a police officer, endorses abject violence and takes the law in his hands. Just the way his godfather Ajay Devgn’s Bajirao Singham in Singham and Singham Returns shoots the villain on his posterior to coerce a confession out of him.
Yet, unlike Singham, the honest do-gooder, Simmba is an orphan who grows up to be a corrupt police officer. Because this is a Rohit Shetty film, it’s impossible for Simmba’s change of heart to occur due to self-introspection. Instead, it’s manufactured only after a 19-year-old woman is raped and killed. Simmba turns saviour within minutes: This is the same man who gets aggrieved when his colleague calls him out for being corrupt and says, “You’re accusing me as if I’ve raped someone.” Just the hero Indian women need.
If anything, Simmba continues Bollywood’s tradition of letting women be helpless victims of violence, only so that male stars can double up as their saviours. Really, Bollywood? Is that the best you can do to cap a year where directors, actors, and filmmakers, were hit by solid #MeToo accusations?
There’s only so much emotional intelligence you can expect from a director whose greatest cinematic achievement remains randomly blowing up cars.
Hindi cinema is, in fact, replete with vigilante rape dramas that confuse revenge with justice. Yet, a film like Simmba is especially detrimental in the times we live in, because it panders to a bloodthirsty mob mentality that creates villains out of average people. It is completely unaware of context, and of the responsibility that tackling a sensitive subject like rape demands. (Even though it generously references PINK, rape statistics, and the 2012 Delhi gang rape.)
There’s evidence of it in the way Simmba posits simplistic, blustery “solutions” to combat sexual assault. In one scene, a sub-inspector says that unless cops kill rapists, nothing will change. In another, Simmba claims that all of India believes that rapists should be killed. The most tone-deaf of these is when Simmba asks a group of women what punishment they’d wish upon rapists: Their options revolve between death and castration. And in the film’s rape scene, shots of the young woman being dragged by her assaulters is juxtaposed with a shot of Simmba, who is fast asleep. It’s not hard to glean what it implies: The rape would have never happened had he been awake to save the day.
I suppose, there’s only so much emotional intelligence you can expect from a director whose greatest cinematic achievement remains randomly blowing up cars – which in itself is likely an homage to Michael Bay. But Rohit Shetty also knows exactly what he is doing with Simmba – reducing rape to a buzzword in an exaggerated comedy to prove that the RSCU isn’t all nonsensical. Even though Ranveer Singh, an actor who is the living embodiment of excess, almost elevates this testosterone-fuelled macho drivel into surprisingly entertaining fare. That is, until a woman is sacrificed for him to realise his true calling.
In fact, the most damning part of Simmba’s juvenile “rape is bad” and “respect women” campaign is how it views women in the first place. Shagun (Sara Ali Khan), the film’s female lead has a total of five scenes, out of which two don’t require her to speak at all. Shetty isn’t even subtle in suggesting that men belong in offices and women in their kitchens, considering Shagun runs a catering business and is tasked with preparing a tiffin in a pivotal scene. The rest of the film’s female characters are mute puppets, who get to be in the frame only when Simmba has to prove a point.
Every woman is only identified by the gender role she fulfils – she is either a mother, sister, wife, or a girlfriend. And it makes matters worse when the film suggests that sexual violence is bad only when your mother, sister, or wife is subjected to it. In a court scene, Simmba tries to get a favourable outcome by suggesting to the woman judge that her daughter might get raped. In another scene, a daughter guilts her father into not suspending Simbaa for killing the rapists with a “Imagine, if I was the girl who was raped”. And in the film’s most appalling scene, Simmba implies that the rapists in lock-up are impotent, inciting them to “brag” about their rape skills so that he can shoot them point-blank.
So, yes. Simmba does its bit to critique toxic masculinity – even if its own lead wears a toxic male pride only a shade softer. If Simmba is Rohit Shetty’s idea of what justice looks for women, I can only hope that we don’t have to sit through a film that is his version of what equality looks like.
When not obsessing over TV shows, planning unaffordable vacations, or stuffing her face with french fries, Poulomi likes believing that some day her sense of humour will be darker than her under-eye circles.