Singapore Saloon is very much like a fresh haircut you get, off to a great start but crumbles to the common rut
Still from Singapore Saloon
Remember the first few days you come out fresh from a salon after a new haircut? A tingling feel that is brewed by the concoction of confidence and new look, that you have not seen yourself for a while, an image that makes you believe in yourself more than you do? But we all know how those honeymoon days of a good haircut ends after you take that first hair wash at home. Well, RJ Balaji’s latest outing Singapore Saloon is very much like a fresh haircut you get, off to a great start but crumbles to the common rut.
In this Gokul directorial, the filmmaker takes interesting choices to set up the first half of the film. For example, the peculiar choice to show a circumcision and tonsure eventually making a Muslim boy, Basha, and his friend Kathir, befriend a barber, Cha Cha, who gradually becomes the boys’ role model, is executed with some cleanliness and portion of comedy. There isn’t much talking when it comes to showing the boys grow. When the walls of Cha Cha’s saloon, once graced with portraits of MGR and Sivaji Ganesan, then features Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan, and eventually, when we see a Minsara Kanna poster on the wall, we know it’s the late 1990s era. There are elaborate set pieces in the first half, how Kathir and Basha eventually grow close to Cha Cha, how Kathir takes up after the barber to become a hair stylist, and how he eventually climbs the ladder in a profession that is less known to the society as a legitimate career option.
But what sits as the cherry on the cake, is Gokul’s writing which features some throwaway dialogues; witty, apt for the situation, and hilariously brings quips. Dialogues like “Azhagana ponnu oda appa sirichu ippo dhan pakren” (It’s the first time I am seeing a father to beautiful daughter smiling), “Vazhshataku oru tharam dhan kovam varum” (I get angry only once a year), may evoke nothing on paper, but translated on screen, these dialogues are performed in the utmost humourous way. Sathyaraj’s Chakrapani as Kathir’s caricature father-in-law gets a driven portion to turn the tables to his side and make people laugh, but there comes Robo Shankar as Kathir’s co-brother, who does more heavy lifting in the first half to make Singapore Saloon a laughter riot. It feels different in a nice way, when RJ Balaji lets the characters around him do the comedy, while he plays the second fiddle in the most interesting way.
But just as every good haircut is met with a hair wash, there comes the second half, that makes a tonal shift for Singapore Saloon from being an out-and-out comedy entertainer to an emotional drama. Murky politics and stances on low-income settlements’ rehabilitation programme, environmental issues, dilute the film to a stretchy feature, almost ruining what the first half gloriously had built. The film threads on one concept line, that a good haircut can make anyone come off different, for good or bad. In this case, Kathir, who becomes a saviour for a group of boys, does not gel too well for an emotional connect, almost making it sappy. There are some handful star cameos, a dash of Arai En 305-il Kadavul and Seedan, the power of social media, and in the world of crows and eagles, some importance given to parrots but Singapore Saloon does not withstand the tonal shift. It does not strike a chord when a hair stylist becomes a saviour for much larger issues that deals with the way certain section of people are looked upon as. And as usual in any commercial film, women have less talking in the film, and we know Meenkashi Chaudary is limited than the scope it could have offered. It also makes me think; why do we have less women on screen who do comedy? But that is a debate for another day.
Singapore Saloon would have made up for a great comedy, given how the director gave one of best comedies of modern Tamil cinema through Idharkuthane Aasaipattai Balakumara. But the genre shift negates the genuine laughs the first hour of the film soaked you with. The well-rounded supporting cast, with Lal as Cha Cha, Kishen Das as Basha, Sathyaraj, Robo Shankar make up for one of the strong suits of the film. But if you ask me if these well- developed arcs benefit the film in a wholesome manner, it is a sad no. Singapore Saloon is witty, crispy, but all over the place at the same time. Of course there is an undeniable effort, which gets diluted in the want to tick all the boxes of emotional quotient in its pursuit to be a family entertainer.