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Sarbjit

BY SIDDHARTHA MUKHERJEE

Directed by Omung Kumar

Starring: Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Randeep Hooda and Richa Chadda

Sarbjit is a very sensitive topic for a biopic. The tragic story of the Indian farmer and his ordeal after straying over the border into Pakistan in 1990 was one of the most talked-about and followed cases in recent times, both in the media and the public. Can one pick a real life story for a movie and yet manage to make it gripping enough? The film, with all its melodrama and emotions is an edge-of-the-seat, engaging movie that seeks to shock its audience. The movie comprises of quite a few such poignant scenes but somewhere falls short in totality.

Sarbjit tells the story a brave-heart sister Dalbir Kaur (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) who goes above and beyond her capabilities to rescue her brother, Sarbjit (Randeep Hooda), from Pakistani prison. On August 25, 1990 a farmer Sarabjit Singh from Bhikhiwind village in Punjab much in his inebriated state mistakenly crosses the Indo-Pak border, where he gets captured as an Indian spy and regrets his folly in Pakistani prison for 23-years until death. The film’s constant cuts between various phases of Singh’s life prompted through letter-conversations with his sister and wife create a level of anticipation in the viewers’ minds which holds on until the climax of the film. The detention scenes are deeply moving.

Dalbir leaves no stone unturned to prove the innocence of her brother and the film shows what she sets out to do: illuminate the idea of honour and patriotism, ask if human companionships are beyond and above the ideologies we believe in, the fear psychosis experienced by Indians in dealing with Pakistan, and how so many innocent lives are discredited and pummelled into surrender and torture behind the bars; (statistics flashed on the screen before the end credits, informing us that there were 403 Indians languishing in Pakistani jails and 278 Pakistanis in Indian jails as on July 1, 2015). In portions (mainly in the second half), the editing-work seems contrived and incomprehensible. Some of the songs are good but they break the narrative’s rhythm.

Randeep Hooda is the quintessential torchbearer of the film. It is really heartening to see him underplay his usual self and yet come out a winner of sorts. His smoldering eyes emote effortlessly. Shedding 18-kilos with the rib-cage visible, he definitely gets into the skin of the character. His silence, his pain and his madness all suck you in. You cry with his tortured, lonely, lingering, tedious and consuming emotional state.

Richa Chadda’s simple fragility shouts volumes on screen. The only performance that can be questioned in this film is Aishwarya Rai Bachchan as Dalbir. The crescendo of her acting is shaky and she tries hard to light up the darkest corners of the character’s soul. An excitable temper and the pointing of index finger at the Pakistan army are not unattractive, for the director is careful not to weaken our sympathy for his heroine; yet she doesn’t look promising even when the emotional convolutions have become the commonplaces of her existence.

What’s also very disturbing here is that even when the film is saying something important, it’s surrounded by conventional and corny stuff. Weighted down by cliches, the film often feels tiresome. The slow non-linear narrative tests much of your patience and certain things appear quite vague and un-answered. The script, with a melodramatic graph saunters on an even keel, weakening in the second half only to pick up momentum sporadically. The film though is an insightful commentary on the mass populations’ tendency to jump to instant conclusions and the prejudices and limitations of our judicial and investigating systems.

It is the director Omung Kumar’s treatment of the film that is its undoing. Captured in a realistic setting, a few tackily handled scenes along with restrained production values, the film tends to get repetitive and boring in parts. The poor screenplay efficiently sieves the unwarranted portions of the tale, making the film dull at times. Sarbjit shows promise but is let down by an inconsistent script. At best, you can watch it for the subject it deals with, a few heart-wrenching scenes and Randeep Hooda’s outstanding performance.

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