If current Berlinale jury member Amir Khan’s professional mantra is quality over quantity, Bollywood darling Akshay Kumar is the inverse. Kumar’s stamina and his appetite for work – irrespective of whether the work in question remains dull, ordinary or unexceptional – is quite astonishing. It almost feels like he was gyrating furiously alongside Katrina Kaif in Tees Maar Khan mere minutes ago, and now he’s back running-in furiously to the crease for his next delivery, ‘Patiala House’.
Set in London’s Southall, Patiala House tells the story of Parghat Singh Kahlon, a young man with the skill to become England’s fast-bowling spearhead (because of course, England suffers such a dearth of tall, lanky and fast Yorkshiremen) but whose aspirations have to be shelved inside an all too familiar off-license because of his father’s fears. The dad in question – played with customary verve by Rishi Kapoor – arrived in England in the 1960’s and is still stuck in that decade, unaware that the Race Relations Act has made it illegal to stare at South Asians for more than 3 seconds and that the country’s richest man is an Indian.
He harbours a deep mistrust of all things English and scuppers his son’s chances of playing cricket for his adopted country. The dutiful and strait-laced Parghat takes it on his chin and hunkers down to a life of utter monotony, topping up Oyster Cards and selling single cans of beer. And of course, no one in his extended family, including his mother (played by Kumar’s real-life mother-in-law Dimple Kapadia) dare contradict the wishes of the head of the family. Instead, everyone stands around, eyes welling up and lips quivering.
Enter Simran, a feisty lass with a mildly rebellious streak whose idea of not conforming is working in a beauty salon instead of kneading Chapatti dough. She convinces Parghat to let go, chill out, take it easy and follow his dreams. Cue lots of stern looks into the far distance by Akshay, lots of uplifting music and of course copious amounts of dancing.
It’s a formula that has not merely been tried-and-tested but hacked to such an extent that it looks like a 40-overs-old cricket ball after a Sehwag century.
The film does have some redeeming qualities; chief among which is the fact that Akshay’s role involves very little dialogue and lots of bowling. The lean and athletic Kumar is terrifically authentic running into bowl. And Rishi Kapoor is in his element as the domineering Bauji. Kapoor seems to be getting better with age and his performance is solid. He shares a terrifically warm chemistry with Kapadia, with whom he began his career in Bollywood more than 3 decades ago. But it is Anushka Sharma who steals the show with a refreshing performance that never over-eggs.
And then there are the guest appearances by some of the cricket world’s biggest stars – past and present; from David Gower and Graham Gooch to Andrew Symonds and Dirk Nannes. The interaction between Akshay Kumar and these legends will be a delight for cricket fans.
As with anything with Akshay Kumar in it these days, ‘Patiala House’ will no doubt be successful; evident from the throng of eager fans at the preview screening. Ultimately it is an all-too-familiar yet enjoyable family romp of the kind that Bollywood has done to death, with a cricketing twist to it. You won’t be terribly inspired or moved but it is 2-and-a-bit hours of unadulterated escapism.