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Son of Sardaar
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by Jay Seaver

"Bollywood goes Buster."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2013 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: I've got to admit, I felt like I had let someone down when it took me until "Son of Sandaar" repeated a fairly specific gag to recognize that it is much more than less an uncredited remake of Buster Keaton's silent classic "Our Hospitality"; even not being big on "spot the reference", that's one I've seen fairly recently. If you're going to steal, though, you might as well steal from the best, and this particular version has plenty of laughs of its own.

Jassi Randhawa (Ajay Devgn), born in Punjab but raised in London, where he's a bit of a troublemaker, receives a notice that he has inherited some land back in India, so he resolves to fly there and sell it, only then learning that his family has a long-standing feud with another, and Billoo Singh (Sanjay Dutt) was especially keen to avenge the death of his brother at the hands of Jassi's father before his mother left the country with her son. A genial optimist, Jassi figures that this must be completely forgotten by now, and things are looking up when he meets a cute girl on the train. Of course Sukhmit (Sonakshi Sinha) is going to be from the Singh family, and Jassi will wind up in the Singh house before anybody realizes what's up. Fortunately, no host would murder a guest in his house - a fact Jassi is determined to use to his advantage.

This is almost exactly the plot of Our Hospitality, right down to the train and the friendly-seeming guide who stops in various houses along the street to ask if they have a spare weapon. To the credit of writer/director Ashwani Dhir, he doesn't attempt to re-stage any Keaton gags with Devgn (how close things are to immediate predecessor Maryada Ramanna, a Telugu-language take on the material from 2010, I can't say), although I wonder how much Jassi's constant grin and imperatives to the rest of the characters to try smiling more is meant to be a twist on Keaton's great stone face. One of the more entertaining characters, Billoo's long-suffering fiancée (he has pledged to delay his wedding until the Randhawas are stomped out, you see), is new to the story and the ending tilts more to romantic declarations than daring stuntwork.

The core is still the same, though - great big slapstick. From the opening musical number to the last attempt of Jassi to evade Billoo and his massive retinue, Dhir and company pepper the movie with bits of physical comedy well beyond human capability, and while this sort of use of CGI to stretch a live-action comedy into something like an animated cartoon is most often used in bottom-feeding "parodies" in Hollywood (unless there's an in-movie explanation), it seems to be fairly common in India - perhaps it's seen as the next logical extension of the heightened reality of music numbers - and it's good for quite a few laughs. There are some lesser bits in between the big ones, with running gags not always quite working, but also some good bits as Jassi reacts to the increasingly over-the-top situation he's in.

Devgn makes an appealing comic lead in those scenes; he's got a way of projecting being good-natured and goofy and maybe not so bright without being a total fool; it's the sort of part where an actor can get away with winking at the audience. Sanjay Dutt is quite funny, too, as both Billoo's rage and frustration increase throughout the film (echoed nicely by Mukul Dev and Vindu Dara Singh as his sons who would also like to be released from certain vows made years ago). Juhi Chawla doesn't quite steal scenes as Billoo's would-be-wife Pammi, but she tends to make every one she's in better. Sonakshi Sinha is plenty charming and funny often enough as Sukhmit, but given that the movie supplies her with a boyfriend (a pleasant but unnecessary Arjan Bajwa), she could stand to have more to do.

It's no surprise that a Bollywood musical of the usual size (about 2:40) feels like it could do with some editing or streamlining, but it's a generally enjoyable movie to watch, not overloaded with mugging or going too far down side-roads that really don't matter. It's a nice-looking movie, and the musical numbers are fun, often as enjoyably over-the-top as the slapstick and fairly catchy at that.

Sure, Ajay Devgn is no Buster Keaton; they don't make very many of those. But this take on the story is good entertainment, especially with a crowd. Just make sure you catch the original as well - there's a reason it's getting ripped off almost a century later.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=25472&reviewer=371
originally posted: 07/25/13 06:19:26
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2013 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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USA
  N/A (NR)

UK
  13-Nov-2012 (12)

Australia
  13-Nov-2012


Directed by
  Ashwani Dhir

Written by
  Robin Bhatt
  Ashwani Dhir

Cast
  Ajay Devgn
  Sanjav Dutt
  Sonakshi Sinha



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