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
I can see why something like Sardar Ka Grandson would be greenlit. The unlikely premise – featuring an Indian loser hoping to manually transport his grandmother’s abandoned family haveli from Lahore to Amritsar by truck once the old lady is denied a Pakistani visa – is the kind that simultaneously evokes Carl Fredrickson and his floating house from UP (as in the adverb, not the Indian state) as well as Sunny Deol and his hand-pumped fury from Gadar. It’s also the kind of stranger-than-fiction story that tends to go viral on social media with #heartwarming hashtags, irrespective of the geocultural context. There is potential for India-Pakistan peace posturing, a bit of YouTube engineering, some bureaucratic villainy and underdog resilience.
In short, the film is not a disaster on paper. Minus an hour from its 145-minute running time, minus the lead actor and a pointless love story, minus the overwrought dialogue, minus the unnecessary pre-Partition flashbacks starring Aditi Rao Hydari (who, in a 2021 plot-twist, is the one who doesn’t die for a change) and John Abraham (also co-producer), minus the endless Amritsar joint-family banter before the film gets to the point, minus the songs, minus Neena Gupta’s awful prosthetics, minus the noise and red-tape chaos in Lahore, minus the slow motion shots, minus the stretched climax, minus the neither-funny-nor-dramatic treatment, minus the mediocre political metaphors, minus the title – and Sardar Ka Grandson would have been perfectly semi-acceptable Hirani-lite fare. As I said, there is potential. It’s another matter that Sardar Ka Grandson ends up becoming a crashing bore in the guise of a crowd-pleasing Netflix production. So much for the entertaining one-liner.
Arjun Kapoor struggles to play a Punjabi man named Amreek Singh (because he lives in ‘Amreeka’), a character who is dumped by his fiance because he is not emotionally expressive enough. If that isn’t ironic enough, they are partners in a packers-and-movers company called “Gentle Gentle” – a plot device that allows the Los Angeles-based Amreek to compete with the intellectual inertia of the objects he breaks in transit. Meanwhile, a 90-year-old woman named Sardar Kaur (Neena Gupta) in Amritsar is diagnosed with a cancerous tumour, and in a scene that’s played for laughs at a hospital, summons her sullen grandson Amreek from America after insulting the doctors in Gabbar-Singh parlance. Kaur is essentially the worst kind of Indian grandparent, one who openly berates and gaslights her family members for not being able to fulfil her wish of seeing Lahore, her hometown, before she dies. It’s a little odd to see Neena Gupta play a crabby one-dimensional woman who is almost evil by nature. It’s just as odd to see Kumud Mishra playing a corrupt Pakistani mayor, just because there must be some obstacle in the hero’s journey otherwise how else is this a worthy Hindi movie?
Once Sardar promises to make Amreek the CEO of the family’s cycle company, he in turn promises to (literally) move heaven and earth to fulfil her wish. But he discovers that her passport has been blacklisted by the Pakistan consulate because – and I find it difficult to fathom how the makers thought this was funny – a hot-headed Sardar Kaur once pulled the beard of a Pakistani fan in the Mohali cricket stadium after he called Indian spinner Harbhajan Singh a “monkey”. As a result, Amreek decides to bring Lahore to her after he discovers Youtube videos of Americans uprooting and transporting their houses by trucks. When he reaches Lahore to accomplish this task, he is met with an assortment of Bollywood social-movie caricatures: the winsome Muslim teenager, the tough-but-tender cop, the kind-hearted Pakistani businessman, the brotherhood lingo, the egoistic politician.
Every scene is needlessly inflated into a messy comedy of errors, as though the film was drunk on Happy Bhag Jayegi reruns. Of course Amreek’s goal finds legs once local news coverage and ‘viral’ clips make his story go global and attract the attention of opportunistic South Asian diplomats. The sight of a brick-and-mortar house perched on a truck crashing into electric wires in a narrow Lahori lane is almost poetic – because, in some strange way, it even demonstrates the film’s inability to think beyond its gimmicky message. The locals simply raise the wires from their terraces with sticks to let the truck through, but real life is rarely as convenient. If simply lifting a house from the other side of the border was the solution to every make-a-wish foundation premise, the batsmen of the Indian Premier League would be getting terrorized by Pakistani fast bowlers every year. If even that’s too much to ask for, how about making a movie on truck-lifting Babar Azam into Indian territory so that spectators can experience his batting live without facing visa issues?