Those of you exhausted by Akshay Kumar’s now staple brand of buffoonery might be pleased to note that the actor has been kept on a tight leash in director Nikhil Advani’s Patiala House. Cast as the silently suffering, Parghat Singh Kahlon, fondly referred to as Gattu, a promising fast bowler in his teens whose professional cricketing career was aborted prematurely by his tyrant dad, Akshay works with minimal dialogue and hangdog expressions.
This old-fashioned melodrama, set in the largely Indian district of Southall in London, sees Rishi Kapoor playing the dominating patriarch of an extended Sikh family who has terrorized the dozen or so occupants of his home into obeying his every order. But desperate to break free of his autocratic rule so they can follow their dreams, the younger members of the family encourage Gattu to lead the way by defying his father and making a play for the England team when a spot opens up.
The script by director Nikhil Advani and Anvita Dutt retreads the familiar ‘family drama’ formula, packing in every cliché that fits. Advani squeezes in so many characters that it’s hard to keep track of who is who, and how one is related to the other. Fortunately one never really needs to piece together this family tree, even in the film’s messy second half where every member in the house, and subsequently all of Southall conspires to hide from Gattu’s father that his son is playing for the England team. This harebrained plan involves everything from printing a different version of the newspaper for their home, to cutting off the television cable each time a cricket match is about to start.
Plotted like those kitchen-sink dramas of the 90s, Patiala House is loud and melodramatic, and shamelessly tries to manipulate you into shedding tears. Even the cricket scenes in the film’s second half don’t succeed in arousing any of that edge-of-the-seat anxiety because the screenplay is so predictable.
Of the cast, the usually bankable Rishi Kapoor hams it up as the bellowing Bauji whose every word is cast in stone. He fails to humanize the character despite the racism back-story, which is evidently meant to justify his tough personality. Dimple Kapadia cuts a sorry figure as his bullied wife; she has little to do in the film, and buried under layers of make-up she resembles a Madame Tussauds wax-work.
Anushka Sharma, who stars as a well-meaning neighbor and Gattu’s subsequent love interest, knows the character well, having played variations of it before. Still she’s easy on the eye, and a welcome distraction from the film’s bland supporting cast that play varied cousins and aunts.
Akshay Kumar as Gattu who one cousin describes as a “shadow of a man”, is earnest and restrained, and barely says a few words in the first thirty minutes or so of the film. Yet it’s a labored performance, lacking the subtleties and nuances that could have made it truly heart-felt.
This film may work for those who miss old-fashioned melodramatic entertainers, but I was bored. I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five for director Nikhil Advani’s Patiala House. Decide for yourself if it’s your cup of tea.