How much ever new age and path-breaking Bollywood gets, one cannot deny that the family drama has a special place there. Before the ghisa pita garbage we now endure on television, there was cinema with its interesting exploration of the ideas of family, responsibility and relationships. Since the 50s, there have been several film makers who have explored families, their problems and depicted them on the screen with varying degrees of success. From Shakti Samanta to Yash Chopra, from Sooraj Barjatiya to Vikramaditya Motwane; each storyteller has brought his own style to the genre. Further, despite the advent of technology and Western influences, there are several Indians who even today, relate strongly to the idea of family and the values associated with it. Celebrating these values, with the backdrop of migration, patriotism and cricket is Patiala House.
Patiala House is the story of Gattu (Akshay Kumar) who is prohibited from playing cricket for the English cricket team by his father, Gurtej (Rishi Kapoor), who has nothing but hatred for the white folk after bitter experiences with combating racism in the UK. Together with their large family, they live in Patiala House in Southall, London, where the people lead claustrophobic lives under the restrictive regime of Gurtej and resent Gattu for engendering this kind of control. However, an opening in the English cricket team and the entry of a free-spirited and encouraging girl, Simran (Anushka Sharma), revives dormant hopes, aspirations and gives courage to Gattu and the rest of Patiala House to assert themselves and live their dreams.
Patiala House explores several themes like culture and patriotism in a modern world and cricket. However, its central theme remains the conflict between collective family values and individual aspirations, quite well encapsulated in the struggle of Gattu. The film remains steadfastly faithful to the theme throughout and never strays away from it for too long. The writing is fresh, for the most part; the characters are endearing and the humour is situational. Nikhil Advani shows remarkable improvement, both as a writer and as a storyteller, over the painful Salaam-e-Ishq and the downright disastrous Chandni Chowk to China.
What is most striking about the film, however, is its ability to adapt these age old themes in a modern setting. Its take on patriotism and what it means to be Indian is quite refreshing and is a marked departure from the earlier depictions of patriotism in Hindi cinema. It shows remarkable restraint and intelligence in this area and consciously refrains from any jingoistic sentiment. In doing so, it is almost revolutionary of sorts. Even its take on family values is old-fashioned but with a strong progressive sentiment that is likely to strike a chord with many audience members. The music is fresh with a very earthy Punjabi feel and the production work is remarkable in its authenticity; whether it is in depicting middle class/upper middle class London or cricket, which also benefits from the appearance of a number of real life cricketers like Nasir Hussain, Symonds, David Gower and several others.
However, there are flaws in the film. There are parts where the writing is weak, particularly in the second half and dilutes the impact of the film. There are moments that lack in impact and others which are guilty of overkill. The film doesn't soar to dizzying heights or has you jumping on your feet like a Bend It Like Beckham or a Chak De India. Nikhil Advani still faces problems of pacing and the film exceeds its ideal runtime by at least 15-20 minutes. Also, the placement of Laung Da Lashkara could have been done much better.
In terms of performances, Patiala House belongs to two people. Akshay Kumar gives one of the best performances of his career as Gattu. He underplays the character to perfection, internalizing his anguish and showing his pain only through silent tears. It's early in the year, but this is certainly likely to be counted as one of the finest performances of 2011 and a remarkable return to form for the failing actor. The other person who makes this enterprise worth every cent is Rishi Kapoor who strikes the perfect note as the difficult and often obnoxious father. He is fiery without going over the top and brings dignity and poise to the role. Anushka Sharma lights up the screen effortlessly and Dimple Kapadia, even with a few words, is grace personified. In the supporting acts, Hard Kaur in a de-glamourized avatar and Jeneva Talwar as Gattu's expecting sister-in-law are a treat to watch.
I personally really liked Patiala House. It made me laugh, cry and firmly root for Gattu. But I know I was, and am likely to remain, in a minority in this regard, especially among the youth. It's no Kal Ho Na Ho, although it could have been. But I enjoyed it for what I was, rather than lament what it wasn't. It is a fresh and progressive; earnest and optimistic look at old-fashioned family values with a strong emotional core and valiant performances from Akshay Kumar and Rishi Kapoor. For that, it definitely deserves a viewing with the entire family.