Director: Kaashvie Nair
Writers: Kaashvie Nair, Anuja Chauhan, Amitosh Nagpal
Cinematography: Mahendra Shetty
Edited by: Maahir Zaveri
Starring: Neena Gupta, Arjun Kapoor, Rakul Preet Singh, Aditi Rao Hydari, Soni Razdan, Kanwaljit Singh, Kumud Mishra and John Abraham
Streaming on: Netflix
In 2013, Amit Sharma, who went on to direct the stellar Badhaai Ho, made an ad film for Google called Google Search Reunion. In it, childhood friends, who were separated during Partition, find each other thanks to an enterprising granddaughter and the internet. In three minutes and thirty-two seconds, Amit captures the ache, nostalgia and yearning for a lost life, and the eventual get-together. Each time I watch the commercial, I get teary.
Sardar Ka Grandson had the potential to pull off something similar. The film tells the story of Amreek, a doting grandson who decides to fulfil his 90-year-old grandmother’s last wish – to once again see her house in Lahore. When the grandmom, Sardar, is denied a visa, Amreek does the next best thing. With the help of his partner, Radha, he brings the home back to Punjab so Sardar can once again relive those moments of love and loss.
And yet, over two hours and nineteen minutes, debutant director Kaashvie Nair is unable to conjure a fraction of the emotion of the Google commercial. Sardar Ka Grandson plays neither as a coming-of-age saga of a man who learns to face challenges and deliver on his commitments nor as a cross-border comedy nor as a moving family drama. The soft spot, as usual, is the writing.
The film has been co-written by Kaashvie and Anuja Chauhan, with dialogue by Amitosh Nagpal. The film has been inspired by an Al Jazeera documentary called Going Back to Pakistan: 70 years after Partition, which chronicles the story of an elderly Indian man’s efforts to return to Pakistan. Kaashvie, along with Nikkhil Advani, who has co-produced this film, earlier co-directed the television series POW: Bandi Yuddh Ke. So this is terrain that she is familiar with. But here Kaashvie makes the odd choice to ramp up the comedy quotient. The film begins in Los Angeles, with the perpetually clumsy Amreek destroying most of the belongings of a family who has hired him. Amreek and Radha run a packers and movers company called Gently Gently. But Amreek is disastrous both as a mover and as a fiancé. This capacity for destruction is designed to be funny. It’s not.
The film then shifts to Punjab, where Amreek must find a solution for his ailing granny. His own heartbreak enables him to understand the vacuum in her heart. While the story of moving a home from one country to another is unique, the characters are written as flat stereotypes. Sardar is the typical cantankerous Punjabi matriarch who can swill whiskey from a bottle. Her name inspires a few Sholay jokes. You remember that Gabbar Singh’s dakus also called him Sardar.
Apart from his bumbling manner, Amreek has little that sets him apart. His parents, aunt, uncle and cousin are also colourless and generic, with names like Lovely. And Radha has little to distinguish her apart from some nice clothes – the styling, especially a lovely pink coat, is on point. On the other side of the border, we get Kumud Mishra playing the disgruntled Lahore mayor who becomes a thorn in Amreek’s side. The film features a slew of talented actors – apart from Kumud, there’s Kanwaljit Singh, Soni Razdan and Aditi Rao Hydari – but the script doesn’t give them much to do. The unkindest cut is that the wonderful Neena Gupta is also saddled with scenes that are too tame to have impact. And why does her name appear in the credits after Arjun Kapoor’s? Surely she should have got top billing?
The plot, already wildly implausible, becomes even more juvenile with a string of sequences in which problems are set up in Lahore and then solved within minutes. Amreek starts trending on the internet and becomes a de facto ambassador between India and Pakistan. It’s refreshing to see a film that advocates friendship and co-operation but Sardar Ka Grandson’s portrayal of geopolitics is painfully amateurish. As are the scenes of Partition. Co-producer John Abraham does a cameo as Sardar’s loving husband and of course he gets an action sequence in which he single-handedly defeats weapon-wielding rioters and saves his family. Even more incredulous is that Sardar then gets on a cycle and somehow makes it from Lahore to Punjab. This is the most sanitised, PG-13 portrayal of Partition that I’ve ever seen. Sardar also manages to set up a major cycles manufacturing company – we aren’t told how this happens but I suspect that story might be more interesting than the one we see.
I am happy to suspend disbelief if the plot is engaging enough but Sardar Ka Grandson has stretches of eye-glazing tedium. Arjun Kapoor as Amreek also seems only marginally interested. His expressions – whether he is going through a break-up or trying to stop a wrecking ball or pleading for a visa – don’t fluctuate much. It got to the point where I started thinking about how Amreek comes from America to India and then goes from India to Pakistan carrying only a large knapsack. How does he travel so light? That’s a life-skill I want to learn.
Kaashvie has some interesting ideas – she cross-cuts Sardar’s journey from Pakistan with her grandson’s journey to the country; she emphasises the co-operation between people and the one-upmanship between politicians; in the climax, she gives Sardar the space to really soak in her home and emotion. But none of this is fleshed out enough to sustain the film.
And did we really need a chaiwallah in Lahore telling Amreek: Aapke desh mein chaiwallon ko underestimate bahut karte hain?
You can see Sardar Ka Grandson on Netflix India.