Thanks to a recommendation in the comments on my Halloween post, I watched Sardaar Ji! My second Punjabi movie! These movies are FUN! And, they make me feel like I am a cool Punjabi woman who can handle anything, at least for a little while.
In my Jatt & Juliet review, I talked about how strong the female character was, standing up for herself, going after what she wanted, and allowed to have her own inner life. This movie was mostly ridiculous, but I still liked the strong female characters. They fought over achievements and ambition, not men. They were also capable of being mutually supportive. And our hero loved that about them! He didn’t want a woman who would stay quiet and stay home, he fell in love when they talked back, slapped him, got drunk, and generally “misbehaved.”
Of course, that’s the good stuff about the heroines, on the bad side, it kind of felt like one of them was there for the sexiness, and the other was there for the personality. Mandy Takhar, I liked her, but her outfits were pretty skimpy, and she did a lot of drunk dancing and hand holding and so on. Maybe I’m missing something? So far as I can see, she’s had a pretty good career, so maybe there was more going on with her character than I saw.
But Neeru Bajwa was just so much more interesting! The heroine from Jatt & Juliet, right? And like in Jatt & Juliet, I loved how she was so strong and unapologetic and outspoken. And the film never felt the need to apologize for her either, she was what she was and she didn’t need to change or have a backstory or anything.
Mandy got a little of that. We learn that she is only serious and glasses wearing now, because of her trauma in the past. Otherwise she would be all spicy and outspoken and aggressive, like a “normal” girl. Again, LOVE THAT! The female ideal is someone who gives as good as she gets, and is sexually aggressive, and ashamed of having any feelings at all.
See, I say this film had really good female characters, but you have to really believe me because I just spent 4 paragraphs on the women, and I haven’t even gotten to our “hero” yet! Diljit is a sweetheart. Now that I’ve seen him in a grand total of 3 movies, I feel like I can kind of begin to see his star persona? He’s confident, sure. And brave and a bit of a conman and a bit of a ladies man. But he’s also sweet. He likes it when women dominate him, he likes pampering them. Yes? It’s kind of a macho man, but with a twist.
And this is a great character for him! A village boy, but with a special skill that gives him the upper hand with a bunch of fancy London NRIs. Oh, by the way, was this movie set in London but filmed in Canada? Somehow it felt more North American to me than British. If it was, I don’t mind, because it felt like a kind of consciously exaggerated version of England anyway. Really, everything in this film felt kind of exaggerated. And also more grounded, in some ways.
I’m not talking about the fantasy elements (I’ll get into those in the SPOILER section), but about our hero’s fighting ability and bravery. And the wealth of the NRIs who hire him. And the backstory for the heroines. It felt kind of like they were in on the joke with the audience, like we all know this is a ridiculous inflated version of the world, and we can kind of enjoy that together. I enjoy that a lot more than something like Shivaay, where we are supposed to take all our hero’s heroics and romance abilities and everything else completely seriously.
But in the middle of all that inflated character stuff, there was a lot more groundedness in the sets and costumes and stuff. Because, well, cheap! No big Karan Johar sets with elaborate color schemes and throw pillows and big artwork on the wall. No fancy costumes or elaborate dance numbers or anything like that. It all felt like they were just filming down the block from me, or in a house I’ve been in. And like they were people I might see on the street, not perfect bodies or practiced make-up or amazing hair. All of that, very refreshing! Even if the cause was less “cinema verite” and more “cinema sans cash.”
Okay, you ready to get into the plot? The silly silly fun plot?
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We open with a fancy rich couple having a perfect romantic moment, when he takes her into a beautiful old mansion and proposes, telling her he has already reserved the house for their wedding. It’s all high romance, a bit too high, kind of funny but we aren’t sure if we are supposed to laugh or not? And then a ghost shows up, and they running screaming out of the house, and I am pretty sure we are supposed to laugh.
Pretty sure this whole bit is supposed to be funny, the Queen’s security agent coming and telling them they have to clear the house of ghosts before she will attend their wedding, the media circus around the ghost hunters, and finally their servant pointing out that they should clearly hire a Sardaarji, since everyone knows Sardaarji’s aren’t afraid of anything. This makes sense!
Cut to, the Punjab! Where our hero Diljit is woken by a bunch of ghosts standing around his bed, asking for help. In a different movie, this would be a tragic and sad. But, he’s a Sardaarji! So it doesn’t scare him, he just walks right through them. And goes down to his workroom to wake up and chat with all the ghosts he has captured. Of course, all the woman are outspoken and aggressive, and the young women are super flirty. And all the men are kept on the other side of the room and are just kind of foolish. But there is one empty ghost-bottle, for his “Queen-Daayan”, the female ghost of his dreams, who he will capture one day.
We get to see the capture process when his assistant gets a call from a local school. And Diljit rides up with a rose between his teeth, already for romance. Only to be told that the ghost is an old man, a former school teacher, not a young woman. He’s disappointed, but still ready to do his job.
By the way, I think this part of the movie achieves what the first Ghostbusters was meant to be. As originally conceived, the idea was that the ghostbusters were just working class guys, like plumbers, who were called on but got no respect, until the city needed them. After many many re-writes and re-casting, that original idea disappeared, but it’s popped up again in this movie! Our Sardaar Ji is just the local guy they call to get rid of ghosts. These some grumbling about his rates and complaining about having to work on a Sunday, but that’s all there is to it. It’s very much like calling a plumber.
(Picture not this, and in the Punjab, and you will have Sardaar Ji)
And, just like in the original conception of Ghostbusters, he gets his big chance when the rich fancy people need his help. He gets the call to fly to London, all expenses paid. And, for help, he takes the school teacher he has just captured. And also because the school teacher always wanted to see London. The way he treats the ghosts, it’s much more like pets than like enemies. Oh, and his capture technique is pretty simple, he just talks to them until they get close to him, then waves his hand and pulls them into his bottle, and seals the lid.
In London, he has some fun with the anxious rich groom, but then gets serious and goes off to the mansion to deal with the ghost. And this is the “falling in love with spiciness” part. He is intrigued when she keeps using her powers to smash things and set things on fire. And really starts to fall in love when she reacts to his flirtation by using her invisible hand to slap him. And then, finally, in not very impressive special effects, the water swirls up and solidifies, and it is Neeru Bajwa! And Diljit is in love!
Only, it’s not that easy. Of course, because she’s spicy! And also a ghost. He does some investigating to find out how she ended up that way, and discovers that she was a girl at a party 4 years earlier who fell off the roof of the house. Her only relative is her mother, who Diljit goes to visit and discovers she is a bit of a drunk, and not exactly the usual warm motherly type. But not evil, just someone who is more likely to offer scotch than food, and who doesn’t make her own yogurt. And he also learns about Neeru. In life, she was a college student, and also a dancer. She won all the local dance competitions, had fans, everyone loved her. And then she died.
Diljit goes back, armed with this knowledge, and Neeru opens up enough to tell him that she will consider leaving the house, if he brings Mandy Takhar to her, only she doesn’t say “Mandy Takhar”, she says her character’s name in this movie. So Diljit has his marching orders, find Mandy, win her over, bring her to the house.
He first tries to pick her up at a shockingly real looking corner market, and then decides to join her salsa dance class. Even though he has no salsa dance experience. Not to worry! Neeru, former champion dancer, can help him!
This part confused me, because his romance with Neeru was going long like it was supposed to, she was slowly softening, he was surprising her with birthday cake, but then he also had this meet cute with Mandy? Fighting over salsa dance, putting his hand on her waist and feeling things, winning over the salsa class and leading them in a Bhangra number, clearly romantic! So, what’s going to happen?
Well, first, we learn a little more about Mandy. She starts off looking like she could be just a straight villain, mean and enjoying our hero’s failures. But then she starts to soften when he lies that he is taking salsa to make his girlfriend happy because that is worth anything. And when he admits he isn’t comfortable dancing with her because it is the first time he has touched a woman like that.
Finally, she insists on having dinner with him and his “girlfriend”, and then comforts him when the girlfriend (an escort hired by the wealthy groom) runs off. They both get drunk, have a wild night, and she’s kind of sweet about it in the morning. He even meets her parents (both dead) who see him hanging around and wonder about his intentions. Finally, she admits she has come to love him, and he is the only person in her life since she was orphaned. Hey! He was orphaned too! And that’s enough for him to suddenly feel connected and in love with her too.
But, what about Neeru? I love her, she’s got a lot more personality and a lot less short dresses than Mandy. Diljit is torn about this as well, but decides the only solution is to bring the two women together. After he tells the truth to Mandy and learns the truth from her. Well, some of the truth. Or maybe all of it that matters?
He admits that he was just getting close to her at Neeru’s behest because he was hired to exorcise her. But he doesn’t say that he is in love with Neeru too. But does he need to? That would just make it all about him, when really it is about the issues these two women have with each other. In the same way, when he finally brings the two women together, he doesn’t tell Neeru he is in love with Mandy. Because it’s not about him.
And it isn’t about any man at all! It’s about their personal competition. Neeru and Mandy were both dancers, see, and Neeru always won, leaving Mandy to feel like a loser. So she worked and worked and got better, and finally that night, the night of the party, she confronted Neeru with the knowledge that Neeru was on her way down and Mandy was on her way up. They had a shoving match, and Mandy accidentally sent Neeru over the balcony.
Isn’t that nice! Well, not nice that a woman died. But nice that they were fighting over something non-romantic, and that neither of them was backing down or being “nice” the way women are told they have to be. No, they both knew what they wanted and went after it!
And their resolution doesn’t have anything to do with Diljit either. Mandy apologizes and offers to kill herself if it will make Neeru happy. Neeru finally forgives her when she sees how truly contrite she is, and learns that she has lost everything in the years since (parents, friends, dancing career), and has been sending money every week to take care of Neeru’s drunk mother. The fact that they are also in love with the same man isn’t even an element in the discussion.
Although it is an element in Neeru feeling kind of sad when Diljit leaves the house with Mandy. I guess life as a ghost at Diljit’s house is kind of better than life outside it. You can talk to the other ghosts, and ask Diljit for things you want, it’s got to be better than life in a lonely mansion. When Diljit goes back for her, it doesn’t feel unfaithful to Mandy, it feels like the decent thing for Neeru.
Of course, the end result is a little odd. Diljit gets to go back to the Punjab with his sexy live wife. And his sexy Queen ghost that no one else knows is there. So I guess he gets to have his cake and eat it too? But if both the women are happy about it, and wouldn’t be happy in any other way, I suppose it’s okay!