Review: SON OF SARDAAR Puts A Sikh Slant On Buster Keaton
*Sardar is a term colloquially used to refer to adult male followers of SikhismI thought for a moment about putting that little tidbit in the footnotes, but since it's in the title of the film, I thought it should go right up front. What that definition from Wikipedia doesn't tell you is that Sardars are kind of like the Pollacks of India in that they have numerous unfounded jokes hurled at them from all comers. The stereotype of the Sardar is that of an overgrown manchild, a fighting machine who indulges in big living, whether that is riding pimped out motorcycles or throwing insane parties, Sardars are seen as big galoots. Now, before I get hate mail, I know some Sardars, and I know other female Sikhs as well, and this stereotype is about as true as any, however there are bits and pieces that hold up as general truisms about Punjabi Sikh men.
The Sikhs are a warrior community. They pride themselves on their long and decorated history of military leaders going back hundreds of years. Before there was a unified India, there were Sikh warriors. They stereotype of hyper-masculinity makes them easy targets for jokes, but in general, you don't want to piss off a Sardar, trust me. However, for every ounce of toughness, there is an equal amount of good nature and warm feeling, which is more where Son of Sardaar is coming from, thank goodness, even though there are plenty of Sardar gags that may go over the lay-persons head, there are enough dumb sight gags that it doesn't really matter.
Son of Sardaar is a licensed Hindi language remake of SS Rajamouli's (Eega, Magadheera) Maryada Ramanna, which was, itself "inspired" by Buster Keaton's Civil War set comedy of manners Our Hospitality. If you're not familiar with Our Hospitality, it centers around a man who falls in love with a girl from a rival family and somehow makes it into her home. Once inside, her father and brothers, proper southern gentlemen all, make up their minds to kill Buster, but because of decorum, they will not harm a guest, so they spend the entire film trying to get him to leave so they can do their dirty work without being labeled as unkind hosts.
The Hindi version has all of that, but it also has flying jeeps, bug-eyed horses, plenty of dance numbers, and a lot of Tex Avery style sight gags. Ajay Devgan reprises his standard tough guy with a heart of gold character in Jaswinder Singh, a Punjabi Sikh who returns to his homeland from London to settle his family's estate. What he doesn't realize at first is that his family's clan has been feuding with a neighboring clan for generations, and even though Jassi has been gone for 25 years, the torch still burns, and he's going to get a hell of a welcome once they realize who he is. He makes his way onto the estate of this rival clan, The Sandhus led by Sanjay Dutt's Billoo, and the games begin.
I pretty much gave you the plot of this film in the description of Our Hospitality, there isn't too much changed. We get a protracted romance subplot, a lot more action, and the expected song and dance numbers, but apart from transposing the action from the southern US states to Punjab, there's not a lot in the way of change to report.
The film is really uneven in terms of pacing. Director Ashwni Dhir takes his sweet time getting Jassi to the Sandhu estate, and then once he arrives, the repeated gag begins to wear thin after about an hour or so. If you like Bollywood styled over the top action of the sort taken to is extremes in last summer's Singham (also starring Devgan), Son of Sardaar has something for you, except that rather than playing it straight, it is completely clear that Devgan has decided to amp it up to 11 and make the comedy more obvious. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Honestly, There wasn't a whole lot in the film that really grabbed my attention, since I knew the skeleton of the story going in, it was up to the cast to bring it to life in a way that might save it from my savage pen.
If it weren't for the cast, Son of Sardaar would be a complete bust, but as it stands the film is held together just barely by solid lead and supporting performances. Ajay Devgan doesn't do anything he hasn't done in his last few films, except this time around he does it in a turban. It's really the supporting cast who lend the needed masala to the film. Sanjay Dutt's Billoo comes across as a little flat for a main villain, but his family and friends certainly make up the slack. Sonakshi Sinha (Dabangg, Rowdy Rathore) takes on the role of Jassi's love interest, and is thankful given much more to do than she was in either Rowdy Rathore or Joker. Her brand of bravado is a breath of fresh air, but her appearance came in second for me behind the second lead actress in the film. If you're not a fan of '90s Bollywood, the name Juhi Chawla may not mean much, but to the true believer, she's a legend, and I was incredibly excited to see her back on screen in a significant role, and she didn't disappoint. As goofy as this film gets, Chawla delivers every single time she's on screen, and thank heavens because there are times where Son of Sardaar really needs her touch.
Apart from the cast and a few of the cleverer gags, there's not much to Son of Sardaar, which makes me wonder why, exactly, they decided to release it against one of the most anticipated films of the year in Jab Tak Hai Jaan. There is no comparison, really, and the empty auditorium I was sitting in probably speaks volumes about that business decision. Unfortunately, I'm not sure that a wide open weekend would've been much of a help to this film as it somehow, even with incredibly over the top stunts and zany antics, manages to fall pretty flat. Am I sorry I spent my two hours in this world? No. However, I'm an easy mark for stuff like this; if you're not quite sold on Indian action comedy, this one isn't going to change your mind. Son of Sardaar is a mediocre effort from a leading man who is milking his macho persona beyond its limits. Time for something else Ajay, they can't all be Singham.