A little late and more than a little goofy, “I Am Singh” splices a very serious subject — post-9/11 hate crimes against turban-wearing Sikhs — onto a Bollywood format, diluting a sobering message with hysterical dance numbers, engorged dialogue, bimbo-esque blondes and over-the-top performances. Helmer Puneet Issar’s righteous indignation is certainly well placed, but his cartoonish portrayals of police, racists and white Americans in general will prove off-putting, as will the generally inept construction of what might have been (say, eight or nine years ago) a very potent political story.
A sense of camp overwhelms all else in this Hindi production, with begins with footage of the World Trade Center attacks and follows with a flashback to the subcontinent, where Ranveer (charismatic newcomer Gulzar Chahal) learns the fate of his brothers and father in Los Angeles: Victims of a 9/11 “revenge” attack by white supremacists, one brother is dead, another jailed, and their father hospitalized. (In re-enacting several real-life bias crimes against Sikhs and Muslims, Issar places the blame on organized hate groups rather than ignorant, drunk or otherwise impaired individuals, making the crimes seem more premeditated.)
First, however, “I Am Singh” — the title referring to a historically significant and oft-shared name among Sikhs — has to visit a bachelor party, occasioning a musical number in which new meaning is given to the term “spicy lentils.” (“He asked for more,” sings a statuesque blonde. “I beat him with my spatula.”) It’s hard for the viewer to consider the plight of victimized L.A. Sikhs when being assaulted by so much hilarity.
Ranveer travels to L.A. to comfort his distraught family, and becomes allied with radicalized Pakistani Rizwan (Rizwan Haider) and a mountainous Sikh named Fateh Singh (helmer Issar), who has been dismissed from the “U.S. police department” for wearing a turban. Some of the film’s better moments are the musical numbers featuring Sikh warriors, which evoke the martial spirit of Sikhism, as Fateh, Rizwan and Ranveer all make clear that they are not about to be tread on by “racist goons.” The implication that mistaken identity was involved in the anti-Sikh violence implies it would be OK against Muslims, but that’s a finer distinction than this film ever gets close to making.
In their quest for justice, our heroes have to contend with a sheriff’s department based at Pasadena police headquarters and identified as the LAPD, led by the heinous but comically named Ivan Chip Frederick (Albert Stroth), an officer so racist he wouldn’t survive five minutes in any real-world law-enforcement situation north of Alabama. The three are also assisted by the very attractive Amy Washington (Amy Rasimas) and Amelia White (Brooke Johnston), attorneys who dress like cocktail waitresses.
“I Am Singh” is meant to generate righteous indignation, and it might do just that for auds who won’t question the film’s consistent errors of law and geography, or the way it rails against “Americans” while arguing that its besieged characters are exactly that.
Production values are subpar, especially the erratic editing, dubious use of slo-mo and ham-handed music cues.