Film review: Sarbjit fails to establish a coherent narrative
Director: Omung Kumar
Starring: Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Randeep Hooda
For his latest film, director Omung Kumar – who made the 2014 sports biopic Mary Kom – turns his attention to another true story. This time he focuses on Sarabjit Singh (played by Randeep Hooda), an Indian farmer who after straying over the border into Pakistan in 1990, was convicted of terrorism and spying and put on death row.
His innocence or guilt is still hotly debated: some believe he was a spy, others that he was framed.
Kumar bases his film on the version of events offered by Singh’s sister, Dalbir Kaur: she maintains her brother’s only crime was to wander across the border while drunk.
The film suggests that Singh confessed to being terrorist bomber Manjit Singh only because he was tortured, and the focus is the determined campaign by Kaur (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) to clear his name.
A failure to establish a coherent narrative is evident in the first half of the film, when two scenes showing Kaur searching for her missing brother in 1990 are split by an unnecessary flashback – in true Bollywood style – to a gleeful song-and-dance sequence at Singh’s wedding.
It doesn’t help that melodramatic scenes, nearly all of which impart important news about the hapless farmer, make it hard for Rai Bachchan to shine.
And with Singh in jail for most of the film – on the periphery of the main story – the emotive Hooda is left to mostly look anguished and forlorn, where his default is frustration and anger. There are glimpses of his talent in the superbly shot scene where he drunkenly crosses the border, but the rest of his non-jail scenes require him to sing and dance rather than act.
The film picks up momentum as the focus shifts to Kaur’s campaign, but becomes heavy-handed as it attempts to frame Singh’s plight in the context of Indo-Pakistan relations.
The movie transforms into a campaign film, not for Singh but for all prisoners languishing behind bars because of hostile political relations between countries – as if one case means everyone has suffered an injustice simply because of their passport. It seems a tenuous argument.
Updated: May 18, 2016 04:00 AM