Sarbjit Movie Review
Omung Kumar's Sarbjit is a film trapped in no man's land. Based on a newsy real-life story, it takes cavalier liberties with reality. The result is a disappointment of monumental proportions.
Aishwarya Rai-Bachchan is woefully miscast as the dogged sister of the titular character.
But, then, what do you expect from a director who roped in Priyanka Chopra to play Manipuri pugilist Mary Kom on the big screen and got away with it?
The earlier decision was batsh#t crazy. This is ill-advised at worst. But that does not make the final outcome any better.
Aishwarya as Dalbir Kaur, a gutsy woman who put everything at stake in the fight for the release of her brother from a Pakistani jail, neither looks nor sounds like a true-blue sardarni.
Her tinny dialogue delivery and wayward diction come in the way and prevent the film from acquiring any genuine heft and height.
And that by no means is the only problem that besets Omung Kumar's persistently shrill but ineffectual drama.
It has no clue where to draw the line between actuality and falsification.
The film tilts overly towards the latter because much of what is set in a Pakistani jail is driven more by the filmmaker's imagination than by any recorded evidence.
While the makers of Sarbjit could be lauded for attempting to tell an important story, the methods that they employ for the purpose are utterly out of place.
Sarbjit reimagines the plight of a Punjab farmer who, in 1990, strayed across the border in an inebriated state only to be mistaken for a terrorist and thrown into a Pakistani jail from which he never got out.
It reduces a poignant human drama to outright Bollywood pulp with unimaginative treatment and a tendency to ratchet the melodrama up to a crescendo at every available opportunity.
The director strives to whip up emotion when all he has to do is let the story flow on its own steam, given the tragedy that is inherent in it.
Because of the manner in which the female protagonist is projected, she never comes across as the real-life heroine that she was.
As painted by Omung Kumar and played by Aishwarya, Dalbir Kaur is a caricature. In one scene, she even launches into a harangue directed at a Pakistani mob raising slogans against Sarabjit's release.
She accuses the Pakistanis of being prone to stabbing us in the back and extols India for its courage to take all the blows on the chin and fighting on. Not quite Gadar territory, but Sarbjit is almost there!
Sarbjit Singh Attwal, etched out admirably by Randeep Hooda, is not allowed to go from a playful villager to an anguished victim of fate without the usual degree of raving and ranting.
The gratuitous songs and ear-splitting background score divert the attention of the audience away from the pathos of the situation.
The screenplay makes no attempt to link Dalbir Kaur's crusade on behalf of Sarabjit to a trace of guilt that she might have felt for her role, however indirect, in precipitating her brother's fate.
On the day that changed Sarabjit's life, Dalbir admonishes her younger brother for his waywardness and locks him out of the house. As Sarabjit's protests fall on deaf ears, a friend whisks him away for a binge.
He has too much drink and when the revelry ends, he takes off in the wrong direction never to return home.
But the circumstances in which he ended up on the wrong side of the border is never brought up again. Dalbir Kaur is cast in the mould of an unbending fighter for elusive justice.
Amid all this, Sarabjit's wife, Sukh (Richa Chadha), is pushed to the background and is only occasionally allowed to get a word in edgewise.
The script seems more intent on giving the heroine a platform to holler and hector her way though than on crafting a balanced narrative that tracks the impact of Sarabjit's disappearance on the family as a whole.
Randeep Hooda is an exceptionally gifted actor and has clearly put in a lot of effort to get into the skin of the character. But he is let down by the creative choices that the writer (Utkarshini Vashishth) and the director make on his behalf.
Richa Chadha chews up everything in the frame every time she is allowed some elbow room.
Unfortunately, she has only two and a half scenes at best in which to display her wares. It is obvious that the strategy is to not let her upstage the 'bigger' star.
With the star not shining all that bright and the actors in the mix not allowed to play the game their way, Sarbjit is a well-meaning outing that fails to do justice to its subject.
Watch it only if you are an Aishwarya Rai-Bachchan fan no matter what.
Sarbjit Movie Review : Aishwarya Rai Bachchan
When posters of the film carry not the face of the actor playing the titular character, but the star backing the project, you know exactly what you in for.
‘Sarbjit’, based on the story of a man who was imprisoned in a Pakistani jail for over two decades, while his sister fought a dogged, weary battle for his release in India, opts for high-pitched saccharine- laden melodrama : the star is equally high-pitched, leaving the actor to bring up the rear.
Sarbjit’s story has been well-documented. He lived with his family—old father, wife Sukh (Richa Chaddha), and fiercely loyal sister Dalbir (Aishwarya Rai) in a village close to the Indo-Pak border in Punjab. He strayed over the line one night, and was nabbed by the Pakistani patrol. That’s when his ordeal started—thrown in a box for months, limbs contorted, hung upside down and flayed till bloody, till he was forced into a false confession, and jailed.
That’s when the ordeal of his family back in the village begins. The devastated Dalbir, ever protective about her ‘bhai’, takes up cudgels on his behalf. Through the long, hard grind—her appeals to the Prime Minister’s Office and officials on either side of the border mostly fall on deaf ears, with only a few light-in-the-tunnel moments—she keeps going.
There is heft in the story. The horror of a human being made to suffer physical and mental torture, and used as a political pawn between the now hardening-now softening stance between India and Pakistan, is wrenching. The impact on the family is unbearable, neither able to walk past, nor able to mourn. But the treatment is cloying and sentimental, and manipulates you into weeping without actually feeling.
A real-life tale which is inherently so full of drama and heart-break has no need to be artificially revved up. But mainstream Bollywood doesn’t know any other way to do things. ‘Sarabjit’ should have been called ‘Dalbir’, because it is Aishwarya doing all the heavy-lifting, to distressing little impact.
First off, she is all wrong for the part, her attempts at the rural Punjabi accent slipping up every so often. And then she goes full tilt at her lines, ratcheting up the volume, to such an extent that you want to tell her to hush. When she does, go silent that is—precisely for two and a half scenes– she is able to convey her pain and anguish so much better. If she had modulated her act, ‘Sarbjit’ would have been a better film.
And of course there is the superfluous `giddha-shiddha’ : when will Bollywood make a film on Punjabi characters minus this? Richa Chaddha hovers mostly in the background, with only one or two nice moments. One noble Pakistani shows up, in the shape of a lawyer ( Darshan), who believes that Sarbjit is innocent . The rest is taken over by Ms Rai, straining every sinew, delivering loud lectures to both Indians and Pakistanis, and heaven help us, Talibanis.
I did tear up a couple of times, but only for Sarbjit. Randeep Hooda is mostly shown inside his dark, fetid cell, his hair filthy, his hands gnarled. He nails the look and the accent, never letting either overpower him, and is the only reason to sit through this sagging saga.
Cast: Randeep Hooda, Aishwarya Rai, Richa Chaddha, Darshan Kumaar
Director: Omung Kumar
One and a half stars