Pooja Entertainment & Films Ltd., Super Cassettes Industries Pvt. Ltd. and Legend Studios’ Sarbjit (UA) is based on a true-life story. It is about the ordeal of an innocent farmer from Punjab in India, who is arrested by the Pakistani police and made to rot in jail there for years on end and of his sister’s perseverance to secure his freedom.
Sarbjit (Randeep Hooda) is a simple farmer who lives in a village in Punjab in India, near the India-Pakistan border. Staying with him are his wife, Sukhpreet (Richa Chaddha), two little daughters, Swapan and Poonam, father (Ram Murti Sharma) and sister, Dalbir Kaur (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan). Dalbir Kaur has separated from her husband (Ankur Bhatiya) as he used to physically and mentally torture her.
One dark night, Sarbjit, who had had a drink too many with friend Maninder (Trishan Singh), crosses the border by mistake and is found by the Pakistani police, loitering in Pakistan. The police arrest him and put him behind bars despite his protests. They torture him for months and ultimately force him to falsely admit that he is dreaded Indian terrorist Ranjit Singh Mattoo. Sarbjit tries to convince them that he is neither a terrorist nor Ranjit Singh but they are blinded by their quest to arrest the wanted terrorist who had wreaked havoc on Pakistan.
Years pass by. Sarbjit’s sister, Dalbir Kaur, has still not given up hope and does everything she can to trace Sarbjit. Then, one day, she receives a letter from Sarbjit and realises that he is rotting in a Pakistani prison. She runs from pillar to post and from minister to minister in a bid to muster support for his release but meets with little success. Then comes the news that Sarbjit, framed as Ranjit Singh Mattoo, will be hanged to death by the Pakistani government.
Dalbir Kaur, Sukhpreet and her two daughters, who are by now grown up, leave for Pakistan. They get a chance to meet Sarbjit for some minutes. With just a few days left for his hanging, Dalbir Kaur resolves to fight for his freedom. Good news comes in the form of the postponement of the date of Sarbjit’s hanging.
A noble lawyer from Pakistan, Awais Sheikh (Darshan Kumar), comes as a messiah in Dalbir Kaur’s life. He decides to fight Sarbjit’s case in the Pakistani court as Sarbjit’s present lawyer has almost given up his fight. Despite strong opposition from the public in Pakistan, Awais stands by Dalbir Kaur but they meet with hardly any success. And then, one day, they succeed in tracing Ranjit Singh Mattoo. Awais and Dalbir feel, this would help them prove Sarbjit’s true identity and innocence but their joy is short-lived.
Even as Awais and Dalbir are wondering what to do next, Sarbjit is brutally beaten up by jail inmates. This is in retaliation to the hanging of Pakistani terrorist Ajmal Kasab in India. Pressure to mete out similar punishment to Indian terrorists in Pakistani jails is mounting on the Pakistani government.
Sarbjit is so seriously injured in jail that he is admitted to hospital. By now, Dalbir Kaur, Sukhpreet and her two daughters have reached Pakistan. This time, Dalbir Kaur’s estranged husband also accompanies them. Obviously, he has realised his mistake. The family meets Sarbjit in hospital and is shattered on seeing his condition.
Soon thereafter, Sarbjit’s family, back in India, gets the news that Sarbjit has breathed his last. His body arrives in India. On her part, Dalbir Kaur dedicates her life to help innocent Pakistani people, trapped in Indian jails, reach back home – which was Sarbjit’s dying wish for her.
The film is based on Sarbjit’s true-life story. For the film, the story and screenplay have been penned by Utkarshini Vashishtha and Rajesh Beri. The story has its share of emotions but it has been written in a way that it often seems like a docu-drama. The scenes of Sarbjit’s torture and inhuman living conditions in Pakistan’s jail become repetitive after a point of time. No doubt, the drama has its share of emotional appeal but the tear-jerking scenes are interspersed with scenes which make the audience feel repulsed at times and depressed at other times. There’s a difference between feeling emotional and feeling depressed – the former makes for interesting and exhilarating drama while the latter is something people wouldn’t pay money for. Unfortunately, while the story of Sarbjit sometimes makes the viewers teary-eyed, it also often makes them feel depressed.
Again, being in the pitiable condition and situation that Dalbir Kaur is in, one would expect her to be more submissive and always pleading rather than demanding or fighting. But Dalbir Kaur’s rants often appear like she is angry more than sad, in a mood to fight more than get her work done. This is a big minus point of the duo’s screenplay because it greatly dilutes the emotional impact of the drama. An instance in point: Dalbir Kaur, through her eyes and facial expressions, shows her displeasure over the way in which the Pakistani jail authorities frisk her (and her family members) before they are allowed to meet Sarbjit. For the viewer, Dalbir Kaur’s humiliation partly loses impact the moment she expresses displeasure in a defiant mood. Had she suffered in silence and without letting the defiance show in her eyes, the impact would’ve been ten times greater. In fact, when the officer chides her and asks her to not stare at him so defiantly, the viewer actually gets the feeling that the thankless Dalbir Kaur deserves this admonition.
Another inherent ‘flaw’ of the screenplay is that Dalbir Kaur fails in her mission to save her brother. In other words, the screenplay becomes an account of Dalbir’s unsuccessful journey. Of course, that is the true story and that couldn’t have been changed, but from the audience’s perspective, a film in which the ‘hero’ fails so badly does not make for a great viewing experience. Even that may have worked had Sarbjit’s death not been in vain. But the fact that Sarbjit died without any purpose being served leaves a bad taste in the mouth. In other words, Sarbjit’s story, in the first place, may not have actually been meant for a film. What’s worse is that Dalbir Kaur is shown to have lost to Pakistan. Agreed, that was the reality, but it doesn’t need to be underlined what losing to Pakistan means for the Indian audience – whether the loss is in a game of cricket or in a situation of life and death!
The screenplay fails to exploit the relationship and emotions between the sisters-in-law, Dalbir Kaur and Sukhpreet, even though they live in the same house! That’s a very big mistake on the part of the screenplay writers. The solitary emotional scene between the sisters-in-law when Dalbir Kaur simply gives up is, in fact, a very touching scene. Other emotional scenes are: the one in which Dalbir’s estranged husband returns to accompany the ladies to Pakistan; the scene in which the four ladies meet Sarbjit in prison and the daughter keeps looking at her watch as time is running out; and the scene in which Dalbir Kaur runs to the post-office. The romantic interludes in flashback are a bit jarring.
Utkarshini Vashishtha’s dialogues are very good at places but unnecessarily defiant at others.
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan fails to evoke the right kind of sadness in the audience’s mind because of an inconsistent performance – at times, she is suitably restrained and helpless but at other times, she appears needlessly defiant and even vengeful. Frankly, Aishwarya should never have crossed the line; she should always have remained the silent sufferer, the emotionally-drained sister, the helpless soul begging for mercy, the loving sister who could fall at anyone’s feet for seeking her brother’s freedom. She is very good in some scenes but below the mark in others. Her dialogue delivery leaves a lot to be desired. Randeep Hooda performs very well. He lives the role of Sarbjit and acts with effortless ease. He has worked extremely hard on his looks and get-up and deserves full marks on that count. Richa Chaddha shines as Sukhpreet, beautifully underplaying the character. She uses her body language to great advantage. Darshan Kumar is lovely as Pakistani lawyer Awais Sheikh. Ankita Shrivastava (as Poonam) and Shivani Saini (as Swapan) lend excellent support. Ram Murti Sharma has his moments as Sarbjit’s aged father, Darji. Ankur Bhatiya is good as Dalbir Kaur’s husband. Khushi Hazare, Khyati and Inaya Sehgal (as Swapan of different ages), Aarohi Muley, Arshia and Krisha Mehta (as Poonam of different ages), Trishan Singh (as Maninder), Viquar Shaikh (as the jail official), Tanya Sarda (as Zakir), Anoop Kamal Singh (as Ishwar Singh), Rohington Chesan (as Justice Rehman), Hardev (as Ranjit Singh Mattoo), Jyoti Kalash (as the politician) and others provide fair support.
Omung Kumar’s direction is quite nice. But he has not been able to make a moving human drama which could tug at the audience’s heart-strings from the start till the end. While his narrative evokes tears at places, its slow pace and repetitiveness get on the viewers’ nerves. Music (Jeet Ganguli, Amaal Malik, Shail-Pritesh, Tanishk Bagchi and Shashi-Shivam) is melodious but not very popular. No song is a hit. However, the ‘Tung lak’ (Shail-Pritesh) song is appealing and the ‘Nindiya’ song (Shashi-Shivam) and ‘Allah hu Allah’ song (Tanishk Bagchi) are also nice. Lyrics (Rashmi Virag, A.M. Turaz, Sandeep Singh, Arafat Mehmood, Haider Najmi and Jaani) are meaningful. Picturisation of the ‘Tung lak’ song (Vishnu Deva) is good. Shail-Pritesh’s background music is quite effective. Kiran Deohan’s cinematography is eye-filling. Pradyumna Kumar Swain (PK)’s action and stunt scenes are fair. Vanita Omung Kumar’s production designing and Ramchandra More’s art direction are of a good standard. Rajesh G. Pandey’s editing could’ve been tighter.
On the whole, Sarbjit has an emotional drama as its plus point but its slow pace, docu-drama-like feel, tragic ending and unfulfilling drama will be the stumbling blocks in its box-office journey. This Sarbjit is destined to suffer at the turnstiles and to fight a losing battle.