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Sarbjit  : Meandering Across The Border
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Friday, May 20, 2016
Omung Kumar
Aishwarya Rai, Shiwani Saini, Ankur Bhatia, Richa Chadha, Randeep Hooda

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 jail.


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 cross-border amity.


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.

Reviewed by
Bharathi S Pradhan
Senior Columnist & Author

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