SARBJIT Is SARDARD Despite Some Shining Moments
1 and 1/2 star
How do you tell someone who has suffered for over 20 years that their suffering looks fake and melodramatic on screen? How do you tell someone that the YouTube videos of the real person are so much more powerful than anything that is in the movie? But Richa Chaddha and Randeep Hooda make up by their silences in this otherwise noisy and shrill film.
Sarbjit was a poor farmer who lived in one of the border villages in Punjab. He drifted into Pakistan and was arrested and mistakenly identified as a terrorist. His sister tried for 20 long years for his release. This bio-pic attempts to bring that story to life because even today there are prisoners on both sides of the border incarcerated because they drifted across the porous borders. It’s a brave attempt, but the treatment is so melodramatic and so shrill, you come away with a heavy aching head, instead of a heavy heart at the tragedy of the peoples from both sides of the border.
Aishwarya Rai plays Sarbjit’s sister in this second attempt at a comeback. The criticism of her shrill act in Jazba, alas, has not reached either the filmmaker or the actor. Her attempts at sounding passionate about getting her brother released either sound shrill or hilarious, depending on whether or not you can speak Punjabi. The trouble with filmmakers is that they want the actors to sound authentic and then there are no checks on the ever changing accent. The audience would have been just as happy to have heard her speak Hindi. In fact, it would have been easier on the ears. And actors too are so blinded by the ‘need to be authentic, a role that has no room for make-up, a de-glam avatar’ that they just get carried away. It's the audience that ends up losing more than patience.
But not everything is lost. Just like the family of the man in prison, the movie also has a ray of hope. Richa Chadda does a stupendous job by not saying much by way of dialog, but speaking volumes with her eyes. She saves the film and how! As Sarbjit’s wife, she deals with everything that life dishes out to her with a calm acceptance that is majestic. Her eyes are so stormy and troubled, your heart automatically goes out to her. Sarbjit, the husband, played by Randeep Hooda is a brilliant foil to Richa Chaddha’s wife. He’s managed to transform himself physically as Matthew Mcconaughey did in Dallas Buyer’s Club. He looks tortured and hurt and broken by a prison system that is cruel.
One has seen torture in action movies and it doesn’t matter so much because you know that it is a chance for the hero to show off his muscles, and that he will escape and beat up the baddies. But the torture here is needlessly graphic and it adds to the melodrama of the film. And seriously, the concrete box scenes are just unbelievable. And the politics of this film is ghastly. One doesn’t want to use 'melodramatic', 'unbelievable' again and again for the film, but that’s the effect the narrative has on the audience. If you watch the real life sister speak after the death of her brother (it is available on YouTube), you will find two and a half hours of the movie is just needless drama. The photographs during the end credits manage to bring an almost lump at the tragedy but it is too little too late.
(this review appears on www.nowrunning.com )