Thursday 22 November 2012

Sikh sanctuary: "Son of Sardaar"

Son of Sardaar's title would suggest a sequel, but in fact this is the Indian film industry eating itself by other means: a remake of 2010's Telugu hit Maryada Ramanna, itself based on the cast-iron premise of Buster Keaton's Our Hospitality. Producer-star Ajay Devgn (who appears to have dropped an "a" from his surname somewhere along the line) plays Jaswinder, a.k.a. "Jassi", a jovial bruiser in a CG turban that unravels to snap at his foes like a wet towel in the opening scene, a rumble in a distinctly homoerotic London biker bar where the moustaches are worn long and the cigarettes are pixellated out. (The establishment in question appears to be called "SOS", but it really ought to be "Pipes" or "Sump".)

Recalled home to tie up a property claim, Jassi finds himself caught unknowingly in a blood feud between his clan, the Randhawas, and their deadly rivals the Sandhus, whose glowering chief Billoo (Sanjay Dutt) has vowed to put every last Randhawa - including our hero - to the sword. By the kind of contrivance that sustains this sort of thing, however, Jassi is soon installed in Billoo's ancestral home, where his host's endlessly patient fiancee Pammi (Juhi Chawla) insists "guests are our Gods" - and here's where the Keaton movie comes in, as Jassi realises nothing bad can happen to him so long as he keeps finding reasons to stay exactly where he is.

It's possible the Telugu film was a serious condemnation of internecine violence, powerful enough to have sorted out the situation in Gaza once and for all, but this version (scripted by the prolific Robin Bhatt with the director, Ashwni Dhir) goes for knockabout action comedy that strives wherever possible to make its tough guys look very silly indeed: Billoo's fearsome associates have a particular thirst for vengeance, having been prohibited from consuming pop and ice lollies until Jassi is slain. For once, though, a Bollywood movie has good reason to outstay its welcome: it's precisely that dragging of heels that's keeping the protagonist alive, as signalled in a cleverly extended pre-intermission scene where Billoo discovers Jassi's family ties and resolves to get his houseguest out the door by any means, including blowing him over the threshold, and selling the house so his obligations are rendered moot.

Dhir fosters a hyped-up visual style, mashing up Tarsem Singh-like tableaux, video game imagery, old Queen videos and the Wacky Races (there's a priceless sight gag involving a coconut), but preserves enough classical elements (romance, fields, fistfights; a final assertion of faith, tying the film to the Diwali celebrations) to hook older viewers and prevent the whole package from seeming rootless: the songs are no more than functional, but at least we're spared one of those nightclub numbers featuring the Vocodered contributions of Ne-Yo. The cast play it generally broad, but keep it sweet: Devgn and Dutt remain great physical presences, nicely matched, and Sonakshi Sinha is spirited and funny as Billoo's sister, whose pre-arranged marriage ceremony is the one event Jassi is prepared to step out to try and stop. It's goofy nonsense, but sincere with it, and sometimes sincerely goofy nonsense works.

Son of Sardaar is in cinemas nationwide.

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