Q&A from Mr. Akshay Kumar on Patiala House
How would you describe the plot of the film? Patiala House is based in Southall London where the Kahlon extended family has lived for four generations. The movie follows my battle to follow my dream of becoming a fast-paced bowler for the England Cricket team, fighting the odds, although the cricket element of the film is incidental, and symbolic of something bigger, representing any dream or ambition one may hold in his or her heart. My character. Gurtej Singh Kahlon, or ‘Gattu’, is the eldest son and runs the family corner store for a living. He is a dutiful son but also adamant about following his dreams.
You play the role of a British Asian…what have been the challenges of playing such a role? I had to engage in a lot of emotional and cultural preparation for this film which in itself has been a challenge. The film offered me the opportunity as an artist to explore a persona that was deeply guided by a spectrum of conflicting sentiments and emotions. The unique thing about Gattu’s character is that whilst there is a multitude of conflicting messaging, reasoning and questioning surrounding him, his character is quite stoic on the outside and he conceals the emotional turmoil that is inside him. Let’s not forget that the issue of parents wanting children to following their dreams and parents overlooking the modernization of children’s lives and aspirations exists even in modern India.
Did you study some British Asians to study their personality, their way of thinking? I was spending time among British Asians and observing them, although I have been exposed to all generations of Asians living abroad at various stages of my life. I made a conscious effort to read into subject-matter of Asians migrating into Britain in the 50s and 60s from India and other parts of the world such as Kenya and Uganda and the issues they experienced – whether racism, unemployment or being termed as social outcasts.
The film's message is about generation gaps and overcoming the problems within this issue. What are your own thoughts about this matter? My personal take on this is that family pressures and expectations are something that most youth experience and will have to address at various stages of their lives whether it’s about which career one should pursue, who they should marry, or how they should conduct their life in general. It’s a completely global phenomenon and to be honest not one that will disappear so easily. At each stage of one’s life, norms, values and expectations change which impact relationships. The key to overcoming this issue is mutual respect, empathy and understanding. It’s important to address the situation correctly, explain to parents what you believe in a way that is respectful and doesn’t hurt their sentiments and beliefs. It might not always work in one’s favour but that doesn’t mean that you give up on your dreams. There is always a second chance and you have to grab it at the right time and do your best.
Do you relate strongly with the character of Parghat Singh Kahlon? Yes to a very great extent, I do. In a way I can say that Parghat Singh Kahlon or Gattu, as a character is an amalgamation of me as a person and my struggles in life. Some years ago I went through the same situation, when I had a run of films that didn’t do so well. I thought I was finished. But then I did a film called 'Jaanwar', which I felt was my second chance in the industry. I did not give up but kept fighting and trying, because I knew this is exactly what I wanted and I was not one to quit without a fight. Today, I am glad my persistence paid off and I want everyone to take an example from this and keep going, just keep fighting. Patiala House represents me as a person; very strong-minded, respectful and loving. I wanted to make a success of my life, set myself some goals and worked hard to achieve those things from a young age. I never felt any job was beneath me, but while working in small jobs, I would continue to dream big and actively take steps towards achieving those dreams.
Do you think the film is an accurate portrayal of the culture clash a lot of British Asians face? (British Asians identifying more strongly with Western values than Indian values?) I would like to think so and hope the audience agrees too. You see, Patiala House addresses the issues of cultural clashes uniquely and in a way that hasn’t really been explored in Indian cinema previously. It’s not re-digesting already appreciated films such as Namastey London which was primarily a romantic drama based on the cultural clash between two lovers and given a glossier make-over. Patiala House looks at the cultural clash between various generations of a family which is the plot’s bedrock and does so in a realistic fashion. Of course if you are born and bred in a western country, one can’t be expected to wear ethnic Indian outfits or speak the mother-tongue at all times, but you dip in and out of culture which we reflect in Patiala House. When you live in a western country, your thoughts are more open as you meet people from different parts of the world, but that might not necessarily be a negative. Just when you begin to waiver from your ideals and pretend to be someone you are not, that is when it begins to go all wrong. But from what I have seen, most of the British Asians are quite grounded in their up-bringing, respectful of their values and traditions and do have a strong attachment towards India, its culture and religious values, while being rooted in UK.