Broadly played and cartoonishly stylized, “Son of Sardaar” is a fitfully amusing but instantly disposable Bollywood trifle about a happy-go-lucky Sikh lummox who finds himself embroiled in a long-raging family feud when he returns from London to Punjab to settle his late father’s estate. Helmer Ashwani Dhir and his animated players operate in eager-to-please mode throughout, but the slapdash mashup of manic farce and action-comedy elements will be less than a sure-fire formula for breakout B.O. success.
Pic is a remake of the 2010 Telugu comedy “Maryada Ramanna,” which in turn was inspired by the 1923 Buster Keaton comedy “Our Hospitality.” Bits and pieces of that classic, including a couple of cleverly recycled gags, can be discerned amid the overstated sound and fury here. But Dhir and co-scripter Robin Bhatt appear to have been influenced more by the work of another comic icon, Bob Hope, as they spin a silly yarn about a less-than-heroic hero who gets his biggest laughs with fearful responses to fearsome threats.
Of course, even when playing characters suffused with empty swagger, Hope never made the sort of bold entrance that lead player Ajay Devgn does during this pic’s opening credits. As Jassi, he’s first seen standing atop two galloping horses, each foot planted atop a different steed; later, he’s shown capering across the hour hand of a Big Ben clock face. The opening scene has him besting several brutes in a barroom brawl, thanks to his martial-arts prowess and magically unfurling turban.
Once he’s in India, however, Jassi comes across as more of a boisterous bumpkin. He’s immediately smitten when he meets spunky beauty Sukhmeet (Sonakshi Sinha) on the train to his ancestral village, and eagerly accepts an invitation to her family enclave. But he’s increasingly anxious, if not downright terrified, as he realizes just about everyone else in her household views him as a moving target.
The bad news: Jassi is the sole surviving member of a clan long at war with Sukhmeet’s family. The good news: Because family boss Billu (Sanjay Dutt) adheres to ancient customs regarding hospitality, he decrees that no one can harm Jassi as long as he’s under their roof. Naturally, Jassi does his best to stretch a short visit into an extended stay.
The pacing is uneven, but the cast is up for anything as “Son of Sardaar” alternates between slapstick silliness and typical Bollywood production numbers for a sizable chunk of its running time. The final scenes are (very) slightly more serious, with progressively more acrobatic fight sequences that suggest highlights from a “WWE Smackdown” episode directed by Michael Bay.
Devgn makes an agreeable impression, Sinha is appealing, and Juhi Chawla is pleasantly sprightly as Pammi, Billu’s fiancee, who’s understandably weary of waiting for her intended to finish his feuding and finally marry her. But Dutt is the real scene-stealer in “Son of Sardaar,” earning hearty guffaws with explosions of frustrated rage and expressions of slow-burning exasperation.