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Though an entertaining film, Sardar ka Grandson tells women that you’ll get your rightful respect and emotional support from your men only when old and dying.
Sardar Ka Grandson is a refreshing comedy, deftly woven with moments of pathos, in yet another tale that highlights the lingering pain of Partition.
In this new offering from Netflix, Neena Gupta plays Sardar Kaur, an irascible 90-year-old with a love of life and liquor. She is the matriarch of a Sikh family in Amritsar, and the co-founder of a successful cycle business that her family is vying to inherit. In her twilight years, she yearns to visit her pre-Partition home in Lahore. When it turns out that this isn’t possible through a combination of bad health (an incurable tumor) and bad grace (she assaulted a Pakistani cricket fan and was banned from the country for it), her grandson Amreek takes it upon himself to transport her beloved house back to India. You know what they say about bringing the mountain to Mohammad? Exactly that.
Most of the movie revolves around a cross-border effort to bring a brick-and-mortar piece of Sardar’s soul to her doorstep, and its strength lies in effortlessly infusing her pain and past into the lighthearted narrative. There are plot holes aplenty, but one is willing to look past them, as the overall concept holds up and an array of interesting supporting characters keep us entertained.
The film is bolstered with some familiar faces of Indian cinema, but Neena Gupta as Sardar and Aditi Rao Hydari as her younger counterpart light up the screen. Both actors inhabit their character with ease and a rare continuity of persona. Arjun Kapoor as the co-protagonist has his funny moments and makes for a refreshing change as a man who can cry openly and uninhibitedly.
Where the script fumbles is towards the end, when we are subjected to an unnecessarily filmy tableau that we’ve already watched. Between Neena Gupta’s train-wreck makeup and Arjun Kapoor’s Miley Cyrus moment, this movie has its cringeworthy bits, but for the most part is an easy ride.
What continues to nag me after watching the movie, though, are two dynamics that are frequently encountered in Indian society. They are so common in all South Asian cultures that they play out under our very noses and we rarely think to question them.
Only grandmothers near death can claim their rightful respect
Why is an effort made to fulfil a woman’s wishes only when she reaches an age that is socially determined as worthy of respect? Why are grandmothers put on a pedestal and finally pandered to after a lifetime of needs rendered invisible? A woman has been pining for her home for 7 decades, but it is only when she is halfway to heaven’s door that an attempt is made to make her dream come true.
By assigning a woman her worth based on her social role (in this case, a grandmother) we condone the many ways in which women are otherwise dismissed and reduced through the course of their lives. The message being sent out, loud and clear, is that your wishes are only valid if you’ve first spent a lifetime sacrificing them for other people.
A man’s first emotional commitment is to his mothers and grandmothers, not partner
This next dynamic is also commonly played out in family systems, wherein a son or grandson steps in to provide the emotional support to a woman that is her spouse’s job.
Indian men have been traditionally raised to be providers of material comforts, and are not expected to enter a space of emotional intimacy in their marriage. Their wives, consequently, turn to their sons for this missing emotional closeness, resulting in enmeshment. The cycle frequently and unhappily continues, as those sons are unable to provide their wives with a fully present partnership, and the wives in turn, seek validation from their sons.
To be fair, the movie shows Sardar clearly enjoying an emotionally satisfying partnership with her first spouse. If we take a long hard look though, our underlying social belief that the most important gendered relationship is the mother-son one is what leads us to so readily accept Amreek’s superhuman effort for his grandmother even as he dismisses his fiancée’s emotional needs. His differential treatment of the two women in his life is a stereotypical, if subconscious, re-enactment of that dynamic.
It is unlikely that Sardar ka Grandson set out to examine these socio-cultural patterns, but is a reasonable success at keeping us amused and slightly in awe of a world that existed without face masks. Tell me what you think if you decide to watch the movie!
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