I’m finally going to spoil Simmba! Long after everyone else in the world has had a chance to watch it! Which means I don’t have to put in much of a SPOILER warning. If you want to see the movie, I assume you have already watched it. If you don’t want to see the movie but want to know what happens, then this is the place!
Ranveer is an orphan street kid who decides to be a police officer because he sees how even the criminals are afraid of the police and give them money. He studies hard and grows up to be an officer. He is heroic and smart, but also always looking for bribes and money. He gets a new posting in Goa and is warned not to interfere with Sonu Sood, the big powerful man of the area. In Goa, he falls in love with Sara Ali Khan, the young woman who owns the cafe next to the station, and runs afoul of Ashutosh Rane, the honest head constable. Ranveer closes one of Sonu’s clubs to get noticed, then goes and talks to Sonu and suggests a partnership, asks for a regular bribe. Ranveer also befriends a young woman who runs a sidewalk night school like the one he studied at and calls her sister. The young woman is tipped off by one of her students that Sonu’s club is using children to run drugs and sneaks in. Sonu’s brothers catch her and rape her and kill her. She dies calling Ranveer “brother”.
In the second half, Ranveer is determined on revenge and punishment. He beats up the thugs who come to take the evidence and goes into Sonu’s house to drag his brother’s out. But in court, the evidence is tampered with and witnesses missing. Ranveer makes an impassioned plea for more time and tries to find more evidence but fails. Before the two brother rapists are released, Ranveer and the other officers with help from Sara and her friends enact a drama for the camera and kill the brothers in an “encounter”. Sonu is furious and insists on an investigation. He also has Ranveer kidnapped. Ajay shows up and rescues Ranveer and reveals he is the outside investigator brought in to look into the shooting. With Ajay’s help, Ranveer gets away with the shooting, and even manages to prove Sonu’s culpability by convincing his mother and wife to testify against him. In the end he and Ajay have a conversation about how nothing will change until police officers stand up and change things. And, SONG.
The first half of this film has to tread a fine line. On the one hand, Ranveer is greedy and willing to do a lot for money. But on the other hand, he is capable of thinking about what is best for other people. The point is that his concern for other people has not, at that point, come into conflict with his greed. We see that he captures thieves and then takes a pay off not to throw them in jail. And he returns the goods to the man they stole from and takes a second pay off not to report the full value and help him duck income tax. Both people he took money from were criminals. And the money was to cover up financial crimes, money for money as it were. Yes, in a greater sense, this is breaking down the fabric of society and damaging the standing of the police, and the film goes on to deal with that, but in the mico-sense of the people in front of him, Ranveer is not harming any innocents.
Where it gets into a problem is when he tries to run the same schemes on Sonu Sood. Because he thinks he is covering up the same sort of crimes, bars staying open past closing time and so on. And so Ranveer goes in, all confident, and promotes himself as willing to do whatever Sonu wants in return for money. Because he can’t conceive of Sonu doing anything evil of the level that Sonu is doing it, Ranveer is still strangely innocent.
Innocent, and caring. He knows that Ashutosh Rane disapproves of taking bribe money, so he helps Ashutosh out with family expenses by loaning him money out of his regular salary. And he doesn’t even tell Ashutosh about it, just helps out because he wants to, he cares about Ashutosh and his family.
We see a similar sort of “more innocent than he thinks he is” in the way he romances Sara. He plays a scam on her, convinces a taxi driver who was hanging around the cafe and bothering her friend to stand in front of her house and threaten her. This could have gone very bad very quickly. I thought Ranveer would play the hero and hope for her to fall in love out of gratitude. Or at the very least try to take liberties after he has tricked his way into the house. But no, all he wanted was a mildly threatening phone call which would give him an excuse to come by the house which would give him an excuse to offer to stay and protect her….so he can talk to her. No trying to sneak peaks of her in her nightclothes even, he really does just want to talk to her. He thinks he is very devilish by setting this up, but he doesn’t even set it up enough to actually frighten her, just enough to give him a mild excuse to get in the house. And once in the house, his “devilish” plan is to talk to her and get to know her better.
Sara even calls him on it, he is trying all kinds of complex work arounds to flirt with her and she finally just asks him why he doesn’t come out and say how he feels, could have saved a lot of time. Underneath all that braggado is a nice shy boy trying to come out. Kind of the opposite of Ajay in Singham, when he pretended to be unaware and proper but in fact was fully aware of Kajal flirting with him.
Ultimately this is a coming of age story. Ranveer thinks he is strong and powerful and wise and also a bit of a rascal. But he isn’t, not really. He is very brave and strong, yes. But he isn’t as powerful as he thinks he is (can’t really afford to threaten someone like Sonu) or as wise as he thinks he is (can’t see the fullness of Sonu’s evil) and definitely isn’t as much of a rascal as he thinks he is (quick to turn women into “sisters” and shocked at the idea of drugs being sold in his territory). The interval disaster isn’t the usual “and now I am angry!” turning point in a hero’s journey, instead it is the “and now I am struggling to grow up” moment in a hero’s journey.
And then the second half is your regular old police hero action movie. One thing that really struck me this time around is how much police hero movies are the superhero movies of India. There’s the same unrealistic action scenes and evil villains and origin stories and mentors and all of that. And this movie adds on the obvious other part, the shared universe. Ajay shows up in character as Singham, and it ends with a teaser of Akshay playing another hero cop role. Why should Ranbir try to bring a “real” superhero trilogy to India when it is already there, all along?