Genre: Biopic, Drama
Director: Omung Kumar
Cast: Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Randeep Hooda, Richa Chadha, Darshan Kumaar, and Ankur Bhatia
Five months and I watch four biopics: Neerja, Aligarh, Azhar, and Sarbjit! 2016 seems to be the year of real stories, which certainly is a welcoming change when you are trying to excel in writing a movie review.
Omung Kumar’s movie starts with a typical Punjabi peppy number Tung Lak, which promises a boisterous and joyful beginning to a desolate ending. The youthful Sarbjit Singh Atwal [Randeep Hooda] who belongs to this Bhikhiwind village in Punjab has a happy family who dances carelessly; the family including his sister Dalbir Kaur [Aishwarya Rai Bachchan], his wife Sukhpreet [Richa Chadha], his daarji [Ram Murti Sharma], and his brother-in-law Baldev [Ankur Bhatia].
One night the local farmer, who is fond of wrestling, overdrinks and strays into the territory of Pakistan. There he is wrongfully convicted as a spy and a terrorist Ranjit Singh, who had to be charged with 1990 terror attacks in Faislabad and Lahore. His sister Dalbir struggles from 1991 until 2013, when he is allegedly killed by prison inmates, for his release with due respect. She runs from arrogant CMs to apathetic PMs, holds dharnas on streets in Punjab and India Gate in Delhi whilst trying to hold on to the man-like responsibilities at home.
No matter how much the story sounds thrilling, it does break your heart when you realise that it indeed happened to a family in sadda Punjab. Only after watching the movie you apprehend the plight of the aam family who suffered for more than two decades for no fault of theirs and continues to relish the fond memories that lasted only for a fraction of their lifetime. The movie depicts the menacing political game that ultimately could chain up the innocents into obscurity.
However, Omung Kumar accompanied by his frenzied writers Utkarshini Vashishtha and Rajesh Beri fails to deliver a movie that could otherwise be called a classic. The writers muddle up the screenplay by clumsily weaving every relevant event from Pokharan to Parliament, 26/11 to Kasab to Afzhal Guru in hush while knitting in overdramatic instances. Then, they seem to place Dalbir Kaur at the centre of the plot than Sarbjit himself. I mean, shouldn’t Sarbjit be the real hero of the plot than Dalbir as the title says? Or, is it that Aishwarya’s stardom was enough reason to keep all the actors (even Randeep Hooda who plays the title role) in the background and let them feel the agony of being not as celebrated as the Ex-Miss World at Cannes?
To talk about the performances, no wonder Hooda possesses all the rights to take away home the man-of-the-match-trophy! He transforms so beautifully and convincingly from an enthusiastic Punjabi munda to the bony, ragged, filthy prisoner. Randeep Hooda very honestly delivers his undying passion and belief of going back home and live a happy life with his family [he keeps yelling that he is Sarbjit and not Ranjit and remains the dedicated Gursikh throughout despite been consistently forced to embrace Islam]; his fear of losing the vision and becoming mad after living miserable life for decades [he cries to his sister about living in a dark, solitary cell, where he is given a piece of soap only around eight times in twelve years, and not getting to hug anyone to his chest—he survives by friending an ant in his cell!]; and his ultimate spirit to meet his family after eighteen years and serve them tea or cook lunch for his sister within the cell.
Richa Chadha, although been casted as a supporting actress to Aishwarya and Randeep, again does justice to Sarbjit’s wife who opts to wait for the father to two daughters than leave and starts a new life. Especially when she confronts Dalbir without amplifying her voice, she outbursts herself. She persistently makes sure not to miss Sarbjit de naam di lipstick and to raise her two daughters into dutiful ladies. She, nevertheless, doesn’t age at all in the film but look younger as time passes by. Chemistry between Randeep Hooda and Richa Chadha is intense.
Darshan Kumar, Ankita Srivastava, and Shiwani Saini give performances worth applauding. Darshan Kumar as the Pakistani lawyer who stands by Dalbir and the family and who eventually has to leave his nation to hide away from the fatwa from Taliban, is pitch perfect.
It is only Aishwarya Rai, who somehow tends to spoil the entire cake with her boastful performance. With high-pitched screaming, loud anti-Pakistan speeches, chest-thumping patriotism, and ever fluctuating and improbable Punjabi accent allows her not to never portray as the real Dalbir. She looks fake and forceful falsification of the victim’s sister while doing all the Sunny-Deol type dialogue bazi. But yes, in a couple of scenes when she grieves over the loss of her infant or quietly cries or sings and dances in her room, she looks far more affectual. Overall, she fails to inspire as Sonam did in Neerja.
The cinematography by Kiran Deohans is pretty fascinating at certain points in the film—the aerial shots of Pakistani flags, sarson k khet in Punjab, and blue-grey sky/clouds add aesthetics to Sarbjit. Music by Jeet Gannguli, Amaal Mallik, Tanishk bagchi, Shail-Pritesh, and Shashi Shivam is heart-touching, but each song including Salamat and Dard is done without good reasons in between of tense moments.
Sarbjit falls prey to the director’s hurry in delivering a story that is moving and deeply affecting without paying attention to details. It tells a story that must have been told to all, but in bland fashion.
But the movie indeed compels us to pay attention to important questions: Shouldn’t government call upon bringing back our people who may have been convicted on false allegations? Shouldn’t those 403 Indians who are languishing in Pakistani jails be brought back to their traumatized families and not be made to suffer insolently by the ever running hostility between the nations?