Mayank Shekhar's review: Patiala House

By Hindustan Times

Direction: Nikhil Advani
Cast: Akshay Kumar, Rishi Kapoor
Rating:**

To use popular journalese, the peg of this Patiala (House) story is British racism of the early '90s. This is around the time Indians and various other coloured minorities were targeted by white skinheads in the increasingly multi-racial neighbourhoods in the UK.

A young sardar had stood out then as a Martin Luther King figure of sorts. He'd fought against goras, built a community around Sikhs. The film's set in South Hall, a London neighbourbood infinitely more popular than South Mumbai for locations in Hindi films (the euro is still valued at Rs 60-plus, the producers can do the math around movie ticket sales).

The said sardar, an old man, is South Hall's current 'sarpanch' (Rishi Kapoor — on a sensational second wind of his career, you can tell). He's a fanatic: Someone who wouldn't change his opinion, and won't change the topic. He hates the Brits, or the whites. Why he still chooses to live in the British capital, pay taxes to the Queen, the filmmakers don't deem fit to explain.

A prominent victim of this reverse-racism is the sardar's own son, who once gave up his cricketing dreams of bowling for England. The father wouldn't have it otherwise. He'd commit suicide, if his kid did anything, besides a sundry clerk's day-job at a corner-store.

The old man's own love for cricket is unquestionable. He loves the late Lala Amarnath. He watches every game that India plays at the local community centre. Was he ever to take the infamous British 'Tebbit's test' that checks on fan loyalties of British migrants when England plays a country of their origin, he'd fail it. He'd support India instead, for sure. He's clearly unopposed to sport or cricket itself.

For the love of Lala, it's hard to figure why this dad would entirely ignore his son's unbelievable bowling talent at such young age. Even the great Nasser Hussain remembers the mohalla boy's swingers from back in the day. Ship him off to Punjab for Ranji Trophy, if county or England cricket's such an issue, no?

No. Because that son's Akshay Kumar. This film wouldn't be made otherwise — if we began muddling ourselves up with issues like these. Neither would a quarter of Mumbai's film industry find a freelancer's job, if this indefatigable hero rolled out any less than five movies a year. If anything, this is one of the best of recent Akshay Kumar flicks, from a rapidly expanding annual inventory, of course. Tees Maar Khan, about a month ago, was his last.

This leading man is 34 by now, hasn't played any competitive cricket in 17 years, has merely practiced alone to an unguarded wicket. There's a God. He's also Sikh, and belongs to the England selection committee. He instantly finds this mid-aged fast bowler a place in the national T20 squad. The boy (which is what adults in cricket teams are supposed to be) immediately earns tabloid sobriquets — 'The Punjab Express' etc — first game onwards. The father doesn't know. Here's why.

Relatives and friends conspire to keep it from him. Front pages of his daily newspapers are changed everyday. Cable connections are switched off at the time of matches. And this is one colourful Yashraj-London-Ludhiana family from the '90s having a blast. They number over a dozen, rotate around a strict dad (Amrish Puri's unfortunately no more), everyone's incredibly Indian in their accent and manners, obsessed with group dances, and big fat weddings. It's all wonderfully joyous. It is.

So is the actor Anushka Sharma, the chirpy young thing, who plays the leading man's love-interest. She's easy on the eye, equally easygoing in her ways: something that's begun to delight her audiences lately (Band Baaja Baraat, Badmaash Company). Speaking of her love for life and movies, she says in the film, show me a picture where the hero has no back-story, and I'll show you a flop. Fair enough.

This picture of hers does have a back-story. Whether it matters at all, is the point. Or, maybe not. The Brit-Indian cricketing hero never faces the Indian team in the world cup either. A real conflict in a story can be avoided too. It's all good, this Patiala peg. Just chug de phatte! We're all about Bollywood and cricket 'n' all, innit?

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