Dalbir has always watched out for her brother Sarbjit,
even at the cost of her own marriage. So when Sarbjit wanders by mistake into
Pakistan one drunken night, Dalbir fights like a lioness to bring her brother
back home. The fight gets complicated because Pakistani authorities have broken
him into confessing that he’s not Sarbjit but Ranjit Singh, wanted for five
bomb blasts in Pakistan.
It’s familiar recent history that when Afzal Guru and
Kasab were hanged for terror, the demand for Sarabjit’s head escalated in
Pakistan. It is a contentious chapter in Indo-Pak relations which ended in
tragedy even after it was proved that he was Sarbjit, not Ranjit and his death
sentence was officially lifted. But what his family got after two decades of
fighting was only his battered lifeless body, stabbed and beaten in jail by
frenzied anti-India elements.
Therefore, director Omung Kumar’s film is an important
real-life story to capture on celluloid and he does go at it with a sense of
purpose. There’s more Punjabi than Hindi in the dialogues in the effort to keep
the ambience natural. And cinematographer Kiran Deohans frames the beauty of
Punjab wonderfully before his camera turns dank and dark inside a Pakistani
However, the narrative is relentless and at 131
minutes, it’s far too long to stay interesting.
Aishwarya Rai is completely sincere as Punjaban Dalbir.
But it is also so laboured a performance that it gets tiresome especially when
she’s delivering an unending series of high-octave lectures on brotherhood and
Randeep Hooda as Sarbjit carries off the Punjabi lines
comfortably but he too tends to go over the top in his scenes in jail.
Richa Chaddha as his wife is at home in the milieu but
she takes a backseat to Dalbir right through. Darshan Kumar is monotonously
average as Shaikh, a Pakistani lawyer who pursues Sarabjit’s case with the same
unbelievable zeal as his sister.
The script follows mandatory guidelines. Pakistani
jail authorities are humiliating when Sarbjit’s family finally gets to visit
him and the hatred for Indians and kafirs
is widespread. In India, the ministerial and official indifference is legendary
until the Save Sarbjit movement catches the attention of the media. Of course,
a dargah in Pakistan is a must on the list.
There are dialogues that are clearly written to
establish substance. Like a Pakistani who has lost his young brother in a bomb
blast tells Dalbir, “Begunah toh parivar
hai, donon taraf, lekin sazaa bugat rahe hai na…” Or the Pak officers being told, “Maut nahin dete par zindagi chheen li”.
Right at the end, when Omung Kumar shares figures of
prisoners languishing in Indian and Pakistani jails, you just wish he’d got to
the point a little sooner.
For a good film that needed trimming and more animated
writing, Sarbjit gets a 3* rating.
Bharathi S Pradhan
Senior Columnist & Author