Comedies with absurd premises must work twice as hard to keep us hooked. If you’re going to rest it all on emotion — as Robert Zemeckis does in the West — then at least those individual chords should ring out. Otherwise, it just feels like a farce.
This is the problem with Sardar Ka Grandson, a film with an ambitiously mad plot but little else to back it up.
It’s also a film trying the impossible: making a comic lead out of Arjun Kapoor. After 2017’s Mubarakan and 2018’s Namaste England, this is the third time he’s playing a boisterous Punjabi lad on screen.
Arjun’s last film in theatres, Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar, leaned cleverly into his dour and reticent qualities. This is the only mode he seems to know. To put him on a wrecking ball in Lahore is probably as bad an idea as asking Ranveer Singh to dress down.
Arjun plays Amreek, an LA bloke who moves back to Punjab to be with his family. His grandmother, 90-year-old Sardar (Neena Gupta), is reeling from a tumour. She’s a blast all the same — one of the running gags involves her reminding people to be nice to her, so she can write them into her will.
Sardar announces that, before dying, she wants to see her old home in Lahore. The Pakistan High Commission rejects her visa application, at which point Amreek, working his empty head, comes up with a plan.
Using hydraulic jacks and a truck, he plans to move the entire structure to India. It’s a ridiculous idea, so much so that you can see director Kaashvie Nair and co-writer Anuja Chauhan scrambling to give some explanation.
Amreek watches YouTube videos on structural relocation; his fiancée, Radha (Rakul Preet Singh), who runs a transport service, flies down to help him. Yet engineering isn’t the problem here — the bigger question is of setting.
Why would India and Pakistan, never on best terms and certainly not in the last five years, agree to such a move? The film struggles to explain. Instead, it slaps us with the same ‘Indian man gone viral’ montage familiar from Bajrangi Bhaijaan.
The 2015 Salman Khan movie is not the only point of reference. Sardar Ka Grandson often resembles Sameer Sharma’s delightful Punjab-set comedy Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana.
In both films, there’s an emigrant Punjabi boy who is compelled to return home. Both have huge casts — here, it’s Kanwaljit Singh and Soni Razdan as Amreek’s parents, Divya Seth as his aunt, and Ravjeet Singh and Mahika Patiyal (often funny) as his cousins.
Even the flashbacks — with Aditi Rao Hydari as young Sardar and John Abraham as her late husband — seem based on an idea from the 2012 film.
But they lack the magical charm of Luv Shuv; the writing is bland and colourless, and, apart from a scene where Amreek crosses the border and imagines Sardar passing him, we feel no pull between past and present.
Kumud Mishra turns up in the Pakistan portions and lends the film some edge. Amreek’s home, back in Amritsar, has upturned charpais — presumably out of use in winter. Neena Gupta undercuts Sardar’s wholesomeness with a sly tongue.
Sardar had dropped Amreek as a child, a funny explanation for his doltish manners. The indoor scenes are frequently amusing; anything outside will put you to sleep. I was discomfited by the crowded set-pieces, and a pointed shot of a hospital façade. Is this all a corona advisory?
Film: Sardar ka Grandson
Cast: Arjun Kapoor, Neena Gupta, Rakul Preet Singh, Soni Razdan, Kanwaljit Singh, Mahika Patiyal
Director: Kaashvie Nair
Streaming on: Netflix