Film Review: Patiala House

Directed by: Nikhil Advani

Starring: Akshay Kumar, Anushka Sharma, Rishi Kapoor, Dimple Kapadia and Hard Kaur

All pictures courtesy of: http://www.glamsham.com

Akshay Kumar and I have a troubled relationship. Aside from sharing the same surname (though I know his real name is Rajiv Bhatia and my real name is not bogey Kumar), my first ever red carpet premiere in Leicester Square, London was for an Akshay Kumar film. It was very exciting – Deepika Padukone was there as was Akshay himself and then the big surprise was seeing Amitabh Bachchan there who had come along to support Akshay. I was raving about Akshay, having enjoyed his previous release Singh Is King and settled down to watch the film. The film I was watching? Chandni Chowk To China. Yes. Oh dear.

Since then, I’ve found it very difficult to forgive Akshay for some of the films he has inflicted on us and have been waiting for him to wow me with a performance that would change my tune (as Salman Khan did in Dabangg). Yes, Housefull was fun last year but other than that, I didn’t think much of his films last year and for a while now, have been reading that Patiala House would be the one to show him in a different light. When I heard that Nikhil Advani would be directing Patiala House, I was even more concerned as he was the director of Chandni Chowk To China. Still, putting my reservations aside, it was off to a Saturday afternoon screening which was quite packed but the cinema was pitch black whilst the trailers ran and as I finally found an empty seat, it was time for Akshay to make up lost ground…

Patiala House revolves around Gattu (Kumar) a man in his thirties living in Southall, England, who excelled in cricket as a teenager and is even considered for selection for the England cricket team but now has to be content playing on his own rather than competing. The reason he cannot play? His father Gurtej (Kapoor) who refuses to permit him to play for England. We learn Gurtej had to fight against racism in the 70’s which has lead him to hate the English with a passion and doesn’t want his son to play for England. Complying with his wishes, Gattu continues unhappily running the cornershop given to him until he meets Simran (Sharma) a bright young girl who connects with Gattu and along with his extended family, encourages him to chase his dream – with inevitable consequences…

After seeing Patiala House, I have to admit, I didn’t have an instant reaction to it. There are some very good moments in the film, where everything comes together quite well and we get glimpses of brilliance. But in other parts, though it remains it watchable, PH seems to meander a little too long and with little purpose. Especially the first half which I felt didn’t explore the very strong premise of racial tensions in 1970’s Southall and how it changes Gurtej. I also had a major problem with how Gattu willingly accepts his father’s edict – there isn’t enough time devoted to building up the father-son relationship and this is largely due to the massive ensemble family where no one really gets their due as there simply isn’t enough scope. Also, I wished the PH had had a bit more entertainment in the first half – I appreciate it was not a full on masala film but with a heavy first half, it does feel difficult to engage with the film as one would have hoped.

Having said that, there are some positives as well – the film feels like Kal Ho Naa Ho meets Chak De India and this is not a criticism. Indeed, the film does take positive elements from both films and at times, successfully interprets these elements on its own terms. Note the emotional moments (some of which caught me off guard) which Advani excels in or the wedding sequences and songs which are very good. I also thought PH succeeded in making the cricket interesting to non-cricket fans (like me) and from what I could see, the sequences came across as polished and well executed. Finally, though some of the cinematic libertes taken are very silly (British police speaking in American accents, a warped sense of geography and a tendency to put in a pun too many), these are forgivable as I felt they gave PH a certain charm that a film like this needs.

Styling wise, there isn’t much to write home about – I liked Anushka’s uniform of chinos, flats and cropped blazers with a scarf and kurta. She also looked absolutely stunning in all the ethnic wear, especially in the silver sequin choli with red sari and kohl eyes as well as the outfit worn for the Laungh Da Lashkara song at the end. Akshay is suitably drab in the first half with metallic brocade sherwanis and of course patiala salwars abound, not only on the girls but also on the boys. Other key trends were heavy embellishments, acid bright colours, metallics and raw silks – in other words, your typical big fat Punjabi wedding!

In terms of performances, I’ll come to Akshay in a moment but first off, though he could do the role in his sleep, I felt Rishi Kapoor did well as the dominating dad, inspiring a real fear in the audience as well as channelling a resolve and stubborness that some viewers may find a little too close to the truth! Dimple has very little to do but I thought her bond with Akshay came across very well and I liked the way she gave her character a quiet dignity as the long suffering wife who is inevitably caught in the crossfire between father and son. Anushka is bright, bubbly and is a breath of fresh air in PH, giving the first half a much needed perk up. Having said that, Anushka has now played this role in every shade and now needs to start moving onto other types of roles and start experimenting as an actress to avoid getting typecast. I loved her in Band Baaja Baaraat and feel she was wasted in PH, inspite of giving a good account of herself. In fact, I think she gained a lot of goodwill in BBB and now needs to capitalise on that to consolidate her position in the top league. Other notable performances include Hard Kaur, who I thought was quite funny and played her role for laughs and Nasir Hussain trying his hand at Hindi which even garnered a few rounds of applause in the cinema.

Now, for Akshay. Is this a career best? No. Is it a good performance? Yes. Although not quite the tour de force powerhouse turn that the hype surrounding the film led us to expect, Akshay actually does a good job. He manages to capture Gattu’s melancholy quite well and his performance, peppered with charm, is suitably subdued and faithfully performed. The problem here is Akshay gives a safe performance rather than take a risk or push the role further. The fault of this lies largely with Advani and the script which doesn’t allow for much spontaneity or freedom to experiment. So while this is much better than a bog standard Akshay comedy and a good performance for him, there is still a long way for him to go. Having said that, PH is a step in the right direction for Akshay and in my opinion, Akshay would do well to model himself on Ajay Devgn who manages to balance the commercial and critical with ease and has a varied body of work that shows a versatility as an entertainer and an actor. Here’s hoping Akshay’s next few films see something a little different…

All in all Patiala House is entertaining but didn’t quite hit the spot for me. On reflection, I realised the crucial piece missing from the script was refinement – a vigorous rewrite and pertinent editing could have helped the good film that is encased in Patiala House to break free. It would have also been a film that would appeal more to international markets (as it seemed PH was trying to do) and would have emulated the success of Bend It Like Beckham as the hype claimed to (if I’ve learnt anything from PH, it is to always ignore the hype!). PH is worth a watch but is not a must see and no doubt will be surpassed later this year by other films that will perhaps effortlessly achieve what PH set out to. However, this is one to enjoy on DVD or telecast and who knows, a better film may emerge on repeat viewing. But for my final verdict, I’m going to borrow a fashion term for an outfit that has all the goods to score but doesn’t quite; almost.

Akshay – I’m still waiting for my red carpet nightmare to be compensated -and this is my 100th post which I had hoped to be a memorable one. Right, so that’s now interest on top of initial disappoinment…

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