Filmmaker Omung Kumar brings on screen his second biopic after the super success of Mary Kom starring Priyanka Chopra.
Sarbjit is based on a true story of an Indian farmer who accidentally entered Pakistan and was accused of being a spy without proper investigations. It is also the story of his elder sister who knocked on doors of every government babu so that she can release her brother from his three decades of imprisonment.
Here’s my review for the Aishwarya Rai Bachchan-Randeep Hooda starrer…
What’s it about
A Punjabi farmer, Sarbjit (Randeep Hooda) lands in Pakistani jail in 1990, after drunkenly crossing the border (there was no fence then, even though India and Pakistan had fought two wars by that period). He is wrongly accused by the Pakistani police of being one Ranjith Singh Mattu, a mastermind behind a couple of terrorist attacks there. In the meantime, his elder sister Dalbir (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) and his wife (Richa Chadha) are searching for him everywhere, but can’t find any clue. A year later, Dalbir gets a letter from Pakistan which had been covertly written by Sarbjit, thereby informing her of his miserable plight. From thereon starts Dalbir’s incessant struggle to get her brother out of Pakistan that goes on for years and years, because both India and Pakistan are bothered with much bigger matters in hand. And if you know the real story of Sarbjit, you know how this will end….but not before lots of melodrama, bombastic dialogues and Aishwarya’s trademark screaming!
Sarbjit’s life is a tale that every Indian needs to know, and we need to laud Omung Kumar for bringing his story out to the common man. While we are still debating whether India needs to play cricket with Pakistan, what we forget is that there are so many Indians languishing in their jails for years, and vice versa. We don’t know whether they are innocent or not, and thanks to Indo-Pak cold vibes, we are sure justice wouldn’t have meted to them in the way they deserved. There are still claims out there that Sarbjit could really be a spy (His Wikipedia page still calls him an Indian terrorist), but what if he really was innocent? Then wasn’t the 30-odd years he spent in their jail and later to be killed mercilessly a huge punishment for one night of drunken revelry? This is the pertinent question that the makers want to ask us, and they fairly succeed in that. It also helps that Randeep Hooda gives an earnest performance as the ill-fated Sarbjit. Though he looks a bit artificial in the pre-jail portions, he compensates for that by giving a heart wrenching rendition of a man languishing behind bars of a foreign country for three decades, for supposedly wrong reasons. His jail scenes are very hard to stomach, and we wish if the makers had given his arc more meat, this would have been a better film. There is a scene in the film where he meets his entire family who visits him in jail after 20 years; he is admirably heartrending in that scene! Aishwarya Rai Bachchan also gives a credible performance as his elder sister, and is the film’s real hero. Her ageing makeup has been done well, and so was Randeep’s weakened prisoner look. Ash is best in her quieter moments, though the makers insist that she scream a lot and channel her inner Sunny Deol (saw the same pattern in Jazbaa as well…we wonder why!). It’s in these scenes that she jars. Richa Chadha, though saddled with a limited role, is admirable, especially in a scene where she confronts her sister-in-law about a drastic step she tried to take. Darshan Kumar shines in a small role.
Omung Kumar needs to appreciated for choosing real-life stories for his films, be it his previous Mary Kom or Sarbjit. However, he really needs to polish his storytelling skills to put his point across effectively. Sarbjit suffers from the same ailments that Mary Kom had – overuse of melodrama, contrived narrative and bombastic dialogues. Mary Kom being an inspirational tale, sails through safely. But Sarbjit’s story is already tragic so unnecessary melodrama and haphazard narrative only spoil the broth. For example, the film starts on the right note when Sarbjit goes missing and Dalbir and the rest are searching for him, quite worried about his plight. However, the film immediately goes into flashback mode straight into a wedding song, thereby blowing away all tensions it had built till then. Even in the later portions, Dalbir’s struggles to get her brother out and the politicians’ apathy towards her situation should have had a strong impact on the viewers. But the lackluster storytelling, supported by soap-style background score, loses whatever effect these scenes should have generated. Even the editing plays villain, as scenes just drag on and on, to the point of sheer boredom. There is a scene in the later part of the film where Sarbjit and his sister have a heart-to-heart conversation. It begins well with Sarbjit lashing out at his own fate, but then the scene is stretched so much that we lose interest in his plight, and wish for the film to give him some mercy asap. We already had a biopic earlier this year, Neerja, that also had a tragic tale at its core, yet it did not resort to melodrama to invoke emotions from us. Yet we left the theatres with moist eyes, because of superb performances and taut storytelling. Sarbjit has the former quality, but falters in the latter.
The songs often add spoilsport in the proceedings, especially the Tung Lak song. Though the Dard songs fleetingly touches your heart…
Except for the character played by Darshan Kumar, the rest of the Pakistanis are shown as emotionless traitors, while Indian politicians don’t care a damn! This is not me telling, but the film’s not so hidden message!
What to do
Sarbjit should have been the film that could have brought out issues of human rights being oppressed in favour of political games, but what it turns out to be is a nearly three hours of inconsistent and flawed storytelling. Watch the film purely for the performances, especially Randeep’s and the core plot!