Review: I Am Singh (2011)

By Danny Bowes

It’s hard to be too negative on a film as earnestly presented and about as important a topic as I Am Singh, namely the hate crimes against Sikhs in the United States in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. The earnestness and good intentions carry I Am Singh a long way, especially when the subject matter—extending beyond the specifically Sikh-targeted racism to an examination of prejudices against South Indians in general, especially Muslims—is as continually relevant as it is here. Unfortunately, it takes more than having its heart in the right place for a movie to succeed: it must be well-executed, and this is what makes I Am Singh such a failure, and a mysterious one to boot.

After a lengthy and graphic revisiting of the archival footage of the World Trade Center attacks, the film begins with a long monologue from an elderly Sikh woman, outlining the story’s main theme: maintaining simultaneously (since they’re not mutually exclusive) a passionate belief in the United States of America, and pride in one’s Sikh heritage. We’re then introduced to Ranveer Singh (Gulzar Chahal), the woman’s son, living a carefree life in India until his mother calls him in the middle of the night to tell him his brother has been killed, his other brother gone missing, and his father beaten almost to death. Ranveer immediately comes to Los Angeles.

Upon his arrival he finds hostile, corrupt police, a roving band of demonic skinheads, and a small handful of courageous South Indian comrades, principally a Pakistani named Rizwan Haider (played by an actor named Rizwan Haider) who lost his business and briefly his family after being wrongfully detained as a terrorist on specious evidence, and a fellow Sikh named Fateh Singh (writer-director Puneet Issar), who had been a police officer before being fired for refusing to take off his turban. Between the three of them, they attempt to find a path to justice.

As narrative goes, the above seems simple and straightforward, but I Am Singh takes both simplicity and straightforwardness to rarely-seen extremes. Characters frequently state their narrative objectives as dialogue, and frequently, regardless of circumstances, launch into impassioned speeches about the evils of racism and the nobility of Sikh culture. Even by the usually non-naturalistic standards of Indian cinema, and the even further distance from reality of the regional cinemas (to be perfectly clear, this is the precise nature of the greatness of Indian cinema), I Am Singh is completely out of touch with any recognizable Earth. Characters appear in and disappear from the narrative with no apparent reason—there is no particular necessity, for instance, for there to be two different blonde American lawyer-activists helping the various Singhs—and any time a non-South Asian character speaks for longer than one line, a pointedly unintentional variety of hilarity ensues. The ultimate fate of the skinheads was one of the funniest scenes in any movie in 2011, which hardly seems to have been director Issar’s intent.

The handful of things I Am Singh does well are more pleasant on which to dwell, namely its pleasant if forgettable songs, and a genuinely affecting exploration of the signifier of the turban as a point of cultural pride. One sequence, in which Ranveer winds his turban around his head and in so doing channels thousands of years of Sikh culture as a motivating force, is very effectively filmed and serves to engage the audience in Ranveer’s quest. Sadly, such sequences are few and far between in I Am Singh, and the end result is a bit of a mysterious mess. It is, however, a mysterious mess with a good heart, for which it deserves a measure of respect. A faint one.

31/100 ~ AWFUL. I Am Singh‘s good intentions can’t overcome sloppy filmmaking and a mystifying script.
NYC Film Critic. Danny Bowes is a NYC-based filmmaker and blogger (at He reviews science-fiction/fantasy movies for, and theater for, and is a former contributor to