Friday, 20 May 2016

Sarbjit :: Movie Review


Sarbjit helmed by Omung Kumar which portrays the journey of a sister to bring her brother back home from across the border is marred by contrived storytelling and its the earnest performance by Randeep Hooda that elevates the stature of this movie. Sarbjit's story has all the en trappings to make for a heart felt biopic but excessive melodrama and deliberate insertion of typical Bollywood elements spoil the fun. Sarbjit Singh was a Indian farmer living in village Bhikiwind,Punjab who strayed into Pakistan under the influence of alcohol from his village which is located on the border. Pakistan authorities caught him and claimed him to be Manjit Singh, a spy for Indian intelligence agency RAW who has been working undercover in Pakistan. He was tried and convicted by Supreme Court of Pakistan for a series of bomb attacks in Lahore and Faisalabad that occurred in 1990. Sarbjit claimed that he was a farmer who has mistakenly entered Pakistan but after lot of torture he was made to sign a statement claiming that he was Manjit Singh, an Indian spy. His family especially his sister, Dalbir Kaur made persistent efforts and launched a nationwide campaign to prove his innocence. She met top politicians on both sides of the border to secure his release from Pakistani prison. This story has helluva potential to make for an engaging film but unfortunately the makers have not been able to capitalize on the same. Instead of focusing on the intricate details of Sarbjit's life story and ordeal, the film chooses to focus on melodrama offering the audience a screechy and mawkish drama. Since Aishwarya Rai Bachchan has been cast as Sarbjit's sister, so most of the screen time has been assigned to her which doesn't help the cause of the film. And, Randeep Hooda who has brilliantly transformed himself as per the character's requirements is seen in bits and pieces. Apart from that, the mediocre script doesn't offer much to the movie's actors other than scream, sulk or cry. What the film offers is the family's struggle, protests, hunger strikes, inept attitude of officials on Indian side and inhuman tortures coupled with Pakistanis baying for Sarbjit's blood on the other side. What further dampens the proceedings is the non linear pattern of storytelling. The film moves back and forth in time quite often giving it a directionless feel. It gives you a feel as if several disjointed scenes have been stitched together which at times have no bearing on each other. I've seen two back to back biopics i.e. Azhar, Sarbjit and both have failed to hit the right chords for somewhat similar reasons. Where as Azhar chose to tell a one sided story from only Azhar's point of view and chose to ignore other characters, Sarbjit chooses to focus only on his sister Dalbir Kaur enacted by Aishwarya Rai Bachchan so much so that even the character of Sarbjit's wife enacted by Richa Chaddha largely remains confined to the background. Moreover, both these biopics have tried to laden the film with typical Bollywood elements which fail to give the biopic that authentic touch. However, one particular scene when Sarbjit's family goes and meets him in prison after decades has been masterfully conceived and is bound to bring tears to your eyes. And, the movie ably raises the question and makes you wonder about the reasons of distrust between India and Pakistan and when and how will this legacy of hatred come to an end. 

The story, screenplay and dialogues of the movie have been penned together by Utkarshini Vashishtha and Rajesh Beri. They have failed to pen down the essence of Sarbjit's inspirational life story. It's truly inspirational that Sarbjit never lost his sanity despite being brutally tortured during his captivity in Pakistan spanning over two decades. And, his sister Dalbir Kaur who valiantly fought to bring him back and in a way dedicated her life for this cause. It's a pity that such inspirational story gets reduced to a emotional melodrama majorly because of its writing flaws. While watching the movie, it comes across as if the movie has been made to invoke the emotions of audience rather than depicting the tragedy. And, the disjointed screenplay adds to the confusion as one moment they talk about tracking the original terrorist who was involved in Lahore blasts based at Canada, next moment you see the same person being caught in Chandigarh. You hear about Human Rights Activists from Canada offering to help Sarbjit but they never come in the picture. It is the inconsistency in the screenplay that takes its toll on the film. The film begins with Dalbir Kaur (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) along with other villagers frantically searching for her brother Sarbjit (Randeep Hooda) in the fields of their native village. Months later, she receives a letter from Pakistan that has been written by Sarbjit. In the letter, Sarbjit has written that how he accidentally crossed the border under the influence of alcohol and was caught by Pakistani patrolling cops. He was tortured for several months and made to sign a statement declaring him as Ranjit Singh, an Indian agent responsible for Lahore blasts. After this, movie moves back and forth in time depicting Dalbir's struggles to prove that her brother is not a terrorist.  A Pakistani lawyer Awais Shaikh (Darshan Kumaar) comes to the aid of Dalbir by taking up Sarbjit's case much to the dislike of fanatics in Pakistan. 

Randeep Hooda is proving to be one of today's best method actor. After his delightful performances in Main Aur Charles, Laal Rang he hits all the right notes as and in Sarabjit. As the film moves back and forth in time, we see Sarbjit growing from a young rural farmer to an aged prisoner and Randeep has portrayed the character brilliantly. The physical transformation that he went through (loosing oodles of weight) for portraying this character is worth applauding. You can literally feel the pain of Sarbjit who is languishing in Pakistani prison courtesy the acting prowess of Randeep. Right from the body language to facial expressions to linguistic skills, Randeep has got everything SPOT-ON. I can't think of any other actor who could have portrayed the character of Sarabjit more aptly than Randeep. He has ably portrayed a character who was on the verge of loosing his sanity. As an actor, Randeep has grown leaps and bounds and i will once again reiterate that Randeep is one of the finest talents around in Bollywood as of today.     

Though Jazba was touted as comeback film of Aishwarya Rai Bachchan but i feel Sarbjit is truly the comeback film of hers. She has delivered one of her finer performances as Dalbir Kaur, sister of Sarbjit. She has enacted the ageing facet of her character with aplomb. It is over the top scenes of her character i.e. shouting, crying at several junctures that act as spoilers, yet she has carried herself well in the movie. She is brilliant in the scene where she looses her baby as she has brilliantly enacted the shocked, numb state of mind in that scene.

Darshan Kumaar once again proves his versatility as an actor by portraying his character to the hilt in Sarbjit. His act as Awais Shaikh, the Pakistani lawyer comes across as very earnest. After Mary Kom & NH 10, Darshan once again nails down his character to pitch perfection. Darshan makes the empathy of his character towards Dalbir & Sarbjit look very natural and convincing.

The musical soundtrack of the movie is quite average despite having been composed by a battery of music directors including Amaal Mallik, Jeet Ganguly, Shail-Pritesh, Tanishk Bagchi & Shashi Shivamm. The cinematography by Kiran Deohans is immensely gratifying as Kiran's camera glides across Sarbjit's inner and outer world searching for a meeting point between two worlds through visuals that suggest an uncomfortable kinship between feelings and their geopolitical counter-point. We often see Sarbjit in situations where his emotional world is manifested in interaction with himself. The movie has been edited by Rajesh Pandey who has kept the run-time to 131 minutes. I feel he could have restricted the run-time by at least 10 minutes. As a director, Omung Kumar has done an average job and has been let down by a weak, disjointed screenplay. Also, he has gone overboard with melodrama which in a way affects the efficacy of a biopic. He has tried to pack too much including jingoism instead of focusing on a straight forward narrative. A couple of emotional scenes have come out well especially the one where Sarbjit's family meets him in prison which is the highlight of the movie.

Sarbjit is a classic case where an inspiring biopic gets reduced to a average melodramatic film because of inconsistent, disjointed storyline and over the top execution. It can be watched once especially by those who like to watch glycerine induced melodramatic tearjerkers. 

ROHIT SHARMA. 
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