‘Singapore Saloon’ movie review: RJ Balaji’s partly funny drama suffers from identity crisis

‘Singapore Saloon’ features a mindless yet hilarious first half that transforms into a messy, cluttered and unnecessarily preachy second half

January 25, 2024 05:04 pm | Updated 06:07 pm IST

RJ Balaji in a still from ‘Singapore Saloon’

RJ Balaji in a still from ‘Singapore Saloon’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The concept of having an intermission divides our films into two halves, and compared to our Hollywood counterparts, such a style of movie viewing experience comes with its own pros and cons for the makers. While amalgamating both halves into a seamless watch is supposed to be a prerequisite, it’s films like Singapore Saloon that leave you scratching your head on why that’s not always the case. The RJ Balaji-starrer features a mindless yet hilarious first half that transforms into a messy, cluttered and unnecessarily preachy second half.

RJ Balaji is one of those very few whose real-life personalities spill onto their fictional characters and they usually make for an endearing watch. In Singapore Saloon, Kathir (RJ Balaji) beats societal norms, pursues his passion for becoming a hairstylist and turns into his own boss only for tragedy to strike. The film, at least on paper, is supposed to be the story of an underdog, someone who beats the odds, climbs atop whatever is thrown at him and comes out victorious. And his journey till that setback makes for some of the best scenes of the film.

Singapore Saloon (Tamil)
Director: Gokul
Cast: RJ Balaji, Sathyaraj, Lal, Robo Shankar, Kishen Das, Meenakshi Chaudhary
Runtime: 137 minutes
Storyline: A barber who strives to be a cut above the rest gets tested incessantly

Both the film and its director Gokul are in their element in the first half. After a humorous flashback featuring a young Kathir and his friend Basheer involving some decently heart-warming scenes with Chacha (Lal) — the man who inspires Kathir to take up the scissors — the film shifts to top gear when our protagonist meets his in-laws’ family. Kathir’s miser father-in-law and over-the-top brother-in-law (played by Sathyaraj and Robo Shankar respectively) are quite a couple of characters, and together, they bring the roof down with some of the most hilarious sequences we have seen in recent times. Sathyaraj in a role similar to what he played in Love Today and Robo Shankar in one of his best roles since Gokul’s Idharkuthane Aasaipattai Balakumara make for a fantastic duo who we dearly miss post the intermission where the film turns serious and they go missing.

A still from ‘Singapore Saloon’

A still from ‘Singapore Saloon’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

A series of buildings come down crashing and it causes an impediment to our protagonist’s rise and, unfortunately, it’s not just the building that collapses. What follows is a series of events that feel like a collage of ideas patched up into an incoherent mess. Things get so wild that after a point you start noticing patterns and try to connect them with tropes from other films. Right from Seedan and Arai En 305-il Kadavul, there’s a bit of Maaveeran, director Vijay’s dance film Lakshmi and even a dash of 2.0’s Pakshi Rajan. The film bites off more than what it can chew and along with a slew of cameos, we also get sub-plots that are not just too convenient but also predictable. When a bunch of kids from the settlement get rejected from entering a dance competition, our protagonist gives them an image makeover and that’s apparently enough to get them in. Before the film even lets you think if it’s the skill that should be judged and not their appearance, it hits you with another trope, this time involving parrots losing their homes. I wish I were making this up!

What’s more astonishing is how RJ Balaji, in the name of taking a back seat, gets very little to do. Apart from being the character we follow and the narrator, Kathir gets thrown around because of circumstances and when he finally wins, they don’t resonate with us. Let’s not even start with the lack of well-written female characters in this film. Idharkuthane Aasaipattai Balakumara, even though it tries to pretend to take a stand against alcohol, worked because of its caricaturish characters who are all worth their own spin-off films. The first half of Singapore Saloon gave similar vibes when its stakes stays within the confines of Kathir’s house and his family. But the rest of the film is not even half as captivating as the first half and what we end up with is a middling, muddled drama that fails to recognise where its strength lies.

Singapore Saloon is currently running in theatres

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