Sardar Ka Grandson movie review: An elementary guide to India-Pakistan dosti with Arjun Kapoor and Neena Gupta
The issue with Sardar Ka Grandson is not lack of heart at all. The issue is lack of nuance, depth and attention to detail.
castArjun Kapoor, Neena Gupta, Rakul Preet Singh, Kumud Mishra, Mir Mehroos, Kanwaljit Singh, Soni Razdan, Masood Akhtar, Divya Seth Shah, Cameos By Aditi Rao Hydari And John Abraham
If Sardar can’t travel to her old house in Lahore, can the house be brought to Sardar?
This is the question Arjun Kapoor’s Los Angeles-based character Amreek Singh asks himself in Sardar Ka Grandson when his 90-year-old grandmother, Sardar Rupinder Kaur (Neena Gupta), expresses a desire to visit Pakistan and see the house she built in the 1940s with her husband Gursher Singh.
Gursher was murdered in the post-Partition bloodbath of 1947 that resulted in a mass exodus from both sides of the border. Sardar (which is how Amreek addresses his daadi) managed to escape to Amritsar with her infant and made a new life for herself. She remarried, her family grew and prospered, but the pain never left her.
When she confides in her favourite grandchild and circumstances prevent him from taking her on a journey to Pakistan, he decides to move mountains to bring the house to her. Having just split with his fiancé Radha (Rakul Preet Singh), Amreek feels he understands the emptiness that Sardar has carried with her for 70-plus years after the death of her beloved Gursher. He is determined to do everything his abilities permit to assuage some of that hurt.
Writer-director Kaashvie Nair has told the media that the idea for Sardar Ka Grandson came to her when she watched an Al Jazeera documentary about an old man who revisited his home in Pakistan after a gap of 70 years. At a time when India-Pakistan animosity pervades the public discourse in India, and more than ever before, India’s Muslims are being openly bashed for the crimes of any Muslim anywhere in the world and from any time in history, it requires extreme intelligence and writing skill for a well-meaning person to tell a nuanced story of loss from just one side of the border without appearing to point fingers at anyone in today’s generation, without dredging up old wounds and without getting so immersed in the appearance of political correctness that they paper over the grief of members of any community involved.
Writers Anuja Chauhan, Nair herself and Amitosh Nagpal (who is credited with the dialogues) evidently mean well. The issue with Sardar Ka Grandson is not lack of heart at all. The issue is lack of nuance.
Not only is the film’s desire to dispense a message as transparent as glass, that message is as elementary as the slogans at a political rally and proverbs taught to very little children: “Hindu Muslim Sikh Isai, hum sab hai bhai bhai” (Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians are all brothers), “unity in diversity”, “union is strength”, “love conquers all” – you get the gist?
Sardar Ka Grandson’s “moral of the story” is articulated thus by Amreek addressing the Mayor of Lahore (Kumud Mishra) as the film draws to a close: “Nafrat se zyaada taqat na, pyaar mein hoti hai. Tum chaahe jaise bhi ho, par tumhare mulq ke log na, bahut acchhe hain.” (Love is more powerful than hate. Despite the sort of person that you are, the people of your country are very nice.)
Read: the people of Pakistan are good, but the ‘system’ is bad. The patronising tone notwithstanding, of course his words are a sharp contrast to the high-decibel nafrat-mongering to be heard in public and private spaces in contemporary India and the insidiousness of several Hindi films of the past half-decade or so, such as Abhisek Varman’s Partition story Kalank. Noble intentions do not necessarily translate into quality storytelling though, and Sardar Ka Grandson lacks depth, finesse and attention to detail.
The film sets out to get from Point A to B with a lesson about cross-border amity in hand, and Amreek walks doggedly down a straight road between both places with nary a surprise along the way and nothing new to say. At the very least, the science of the humongous exercise he undertakes for Sardar should have led to some excitement, but in that department too, the director is unable to convey the energy, tension and thrill that would be inevitable in such an undertaking. In fact, Amreek’s project could well be a case study on poor planning and foresight for viewers.
Kapoor has a nice-guy vibe about him that stands him in good stead in this film, but he does not look particularly interested in the role. Given a strong script, Neena Gupta is capable of brilliance (most recently, she tugged at the heartstrings in The Last Color directed by Vikas Khanna), but the part of Sardar gives her little flesh to sink her teeth into. She is sweet as a mischievous lady, but that is about it. The supporting cast play characters that are too sketchy to be memorable
The flashbacks to a young Sardar (Aditi Rao Hydari) and Gursher (played by John Abraham, who is also this film’s producer) do have a touch of poignance, but their love and tragedy too are not written to their full potential.
As for the absence of detail, where do I begin? Perhaps with Sardar and Gursher in each other’s arms on a crowded street and later on their balcony looking out on to that street in 1946 Lahore? Seriously? A couple hugging in full public view even in 2021 Delhi would at the very least raise eyebrows, if not get beaten up by conservative vigilante groups, but in 1946 these two held each other without a single bystander noticing? Take me back to 1946 Lahore, please.
It may be argued that that scene should be treated as a fantasy. Fair enough. What is the excuse though when in a story supposedly set in 2020 as per a document on which the camera focuses at one point, Sardar is seen watching a news report from 2016 on her cellphone?
I suppose a logical reason might be thought up for this too, but the casualness towards the basic nuts and bolts of the narrative cannot be wished away. The cursory treatment of the Radha-Amreek relationship might be brushed aside just like her barely-explained claim that he cannot face his family, but Amreek’s short-sightedness while he works on his mission in Pakistan (it is not possible to give specifics without giving away spoilers) is just too exasperating to be forgiven.
A film in which actor Soni Razdan is listed as Soni Razdan in the opening credits but Soni Bhatt in the dense jungle of the closing credits, and Kevin Pietersen when mentioned by a character is named Kevin Peter in the subtitles, seems not to take itself too seriously anyway.
All this might have been forgotten if Sardar Ka Grandson did not feel like an Aesop’s fable for a kindergarten child with a “moral of the story” spelt out in the end. It takes the political understanding of a Kabir Khan to make a Bajrangi Bhaijaan. Sardar Ka Grandson is simplistic, basic and colourless.
Rating: 2 (out of 5 stars)
Sardar Ka Grandson is streaming on Netflix
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