Sardar Ka Grandson, On Netflix, Is A Tiresome Partition Drama With No Heart

Streaming on Netflix, Sardar Ka Grandson is proof of the fact that content is king and no matter how powerful an actor you may be, clumsy writing will pull you down…

Migration and settlement is the aftermath of any partition. In a tear jerker of a book, Remnants of a Separation: A History of the Partition through Material Memory, Aanchal Malhotra writes, “Migration is often accompanied by a feeling of unavoidable disorientation, and the circumstances of 1947 would have pronounced this feeling. In most cases, it would have created an involuntary distance between where one was born before the Partition and where one moved to after it, stretching out their identity sparsely over the expanse of this distance. As a result, somewhere in between the original city of their birth and the adopted city of residence, would lay their essence – strangely malleable.” 

Partition films, with an ever increasing fan base, are tricky waters. Such stories of love and loss require more than just an urge to tell a story of separation. Debutante director, Kaashvie Nair seems to have nothing more than just this urge. Sardar Ka Grandson had the potential, the idea is genius. The grandmother cannot visit her home in Lahore, so the grandson brings the home to Amritsar. It’s unique, full of heart, and it should’ve worked. But poor research and half hearted writing make it a miss. Nair’s film never delves into the complications of the mammoth task of shifting a home. At an instance, Kumud Mishra’s Saqlain Niazi remarks that the process of shifting a house takes months and cannot happen in just a day or so. Nair’s film is as hurried as the shift. We never get to know where these characters come from, what’s their history, where are they going, why do they keep fighting among each other and so on.

Neena Gupta in in a still from the film, Aditi Rao Hydari and John Abraham from a promotional photoshoot

What we do know, very evidently, is that this is a Punjabi household. Days begin with parathas and end with whiskey. Not just their routine, but even the characters are stereotypically Punjabi. Pinky, Lovely are the names they get and ‘khote’, a common Punjabi slang, becomes the essence of these characters. Wonderful actors like Soni Razdan, Kanwaljit Singh, Kumud Mishra and Aditi Rao Hydari are wasted in underwritten characters. Razdan had a better character arc in War where she played a minuscule role as Tiger Shroff’s mother. Here she’s reduced to a cranky daughter-in-law, always worried about her son’s name in his grandmother’s will. Singh and Mishra stand as wasted too. The former plays the matriarch’s elder son who does nothing except worry about everything and the latter has been given the role of the mayor of Lahore. Even Mishra, a very reliable actor, cannot do anything with the material he’s been given. Aditi Rao Hydari is perhaps the strongest actor in the film. She too, like others, is wasted and, cannot rise above the writing. That she also has limited screen time adds to why she couldn’t really make her presence felt as much, but, she tries

The leads, Rakul Preet Singh, Arjun Kapoor and Neena Gupta are given as underwritten characters as the supporting cast. I know, I’m using the word “underwritten” way too many times, but that is the one word I associate with this film. I believe Rakul Preet Singh is a decent actor but her choices in films have always been associated with being flower pots. In Sardar Ka Grandson, she doesn’t really add much, except, well, glamour. Arjun Kapoor, as Amreek, holds onto one expression throughout the film. He gets the look right, but there’s nothing beyond that.

Arjun Kapoor & Rakul Preet Singh in stills from the film

But the biggest disappointment in Sardar Ka Grandson is Sardar Rupinder Kaur. A Punjabi matriarch, even with stereotypes, is a fascinating character type. She drinks whiskey, abuses in Punjabi, casually tells people that she’ll add/remove their name in/from her will. It could’ve been a good character, but sadly, there’s no arc. We learn that Sardar and her husband built a home in Lahore, she had to flee after his death, in India she built a bicycle empire, but we never get to the intricacies of her emotional journey. And for an emotional film, that doesn’t work. The wonderful Neena Gupta, no matter how hard she tries, cannot act above the clumsy writing and badly done prosthetics. She’s funny in many moments, emotional in some, and you do see a hint of a very fine actor, but that’s about it. We never get to see her true potential amid insignificant scenes and basic dialogues.

Director Kaashvie Nair and co-writers Anuja Chauhan and Amitosh Nagpal add characters but not meaning to their film. What we get is a half hearted story of the partition. The Partition of India cannot be used just as a sentimental aspect in writing, a film or book. It needs to be the very essence of it. Sadly, in Sardar Ka Grandson it’s a theme that suffers in the background. Partition history involves decades of pain, loss. Even today we have people mourning the loss of their lives on the other side of the border. But this film neither celebrates these lives, nor the material possessions people remember these lives by. Think of Gadar, Pinjar, Manto – that’s how you capture the essence of a common loss as big as separation and migration.

All in all, Sardar Ka Grandson is tiresome partition drama. And even though Nair tries to put heart into it, the writing doesn’t allow her to. There may also be some right wing leaning, because a dialogue goes, “Aapke desh mein chaiwallon ko underestimate bahut karte hain?” but who are we to comment on that.

You can watch Sardar Ka Grandson on Netflix. If you are a die hard Arjun Kapoor fan, we’d recommend watching the fabulous Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar, now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

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