Sangram 'Simmba' Bhalerao appears on screen with a roaring score in the background, water from the washermen's workstations splashing in the foreground, and baddies exiting the frame for fear of being washed out (dhulaai, as it is referred to in Hindi films). This is a throwback to the big action movies of the '70s where supporting cast, storylines and antagonists pirouetted around a magnetic central figure. The foreshadowing of Simmba as a kid is reminiscent of the films where Master Mayur played the younger Amitabh Bachchan. The child actors playing the younger version of the hero have not left an impact in a long time. In the lexicon of contemporary Hindi cinema, 'masala' – a delightful concoction of action, drama, comedy and songs when mixed in the right proportions and with a decent recipe (read screenplay) – has been turned into a pejorative term and is often confused with any movie with over-the-top acting and a wafer-thin plot. Ergo, something to be looked down upon. The same snobbery is extended to judging a performance, regardless of its brilliance, in a masala film.
While I appreciate the melancholic musings in Lootera or the restrained rage in Gully Boy, Simmba is my favourite Ranveer Singh character for the ease with which he resurrected the old Hindi film action hero. The Vijay-meets-Natwarlal protagonist of the '70s and '80s who deserted Hindi cinema with the arrival of the '90s urban romantic hero. This neglected prototype found its glory in mainstream Telugu and Tamil before making its way back to Hindi cinema through remakes. As many Hindi movie actors post Bachchan discovered the hard way, carrying that mantle forward is no mean feat. One needs to have a certain screen presence, a conviction, to pull off the grand dialogues and dollops of acting talent. When Ranveer as Simmba mouths 'main paise ka nahi, pyaar ka bhookha hoon aur pyaar main sirf paison se karta hoon' and pulls it off without making it unintentionally funny, that is a win in my book. The dialogues in masala movies have a different metre and the emotions are tuned to a higher frequency. To master it without making it look like a spoof requires as much skill as is necessary to underplay a character. The movie has many flaws but Ranveer is flawlessly OTT, equally at ease in the melodrama-heavy scenes with the victims and the confrontations with Sonu Sood's antagonist.
Ranveer appears to be the only actor in the current generation with the charisma and the madness to take his rightful place as the 'star' that Hindi cinema has not seen in a while. He also has the star power to greenlight scripts that bring back the glory of the entertaining masala movies. The larger-than-life hero of Hindi cinema who can dance, joke, break down and beat up goons by the dozen with equal finesse is losing the rhythmic balance of his heartbeat because of poorly written scripts, the pretentiousness of a section of audience and (mostly) a lack of a worthy successor to Bachchan. Ranveer Singh is the defibrillator he needs. If Simmba is an indication, with better scripts we can have this century's version of the angry young man – a bicep-flexing, wise-cracking, tech-savvy, morally fluid, ripe-for-redemption young man.