The story of Sarbjit Singh is among the most tragic in the history of Indo-Pak relations. Allegedly, he was picked up in a drunken state by the Pakistani force after he strayed passed the border. He was tortured by cops in Pakistan because he was suspected to be Manjit Singh, who was a spy for the Research and Analysis Wing and had allegedly planned five bombings in Pakistan. Sarbjit had kept reiterating the fact that he was just an innocent farmer who was drunk and there was no intention on his part to harm Pakistan and that he had not planned any bomb attack in Pakistan. After several mercy pleas and there being many discrepancies in the case, with the primary witnesses changing his version of the events several times and also the fact that the entire court hearing was carried out in English, which Sarbjit did not understand, this incident remains a brutal blot on the Pakistani government. There was also some confusion created around his release, with his name being confused with that of Surjeet Singh, who had also been arrested and who confessed to have converted to Islam in order to gain concessions. The death of Sarbjit Singh is also shrouded in mystery as there are multiple versions regarding the number of prisoners who had attacked him. Also, when his body was brought to India, it was revealed by the second post-mortem that the major organs from his body were missing and his skull was broken into two pieces.
Having said that, it is a completely different ball game to make a film on this highly complex and essentially a human story with a perfect balance of a subjective perception of the events and an objective presentation of them. Building on such a sad tragedy, the director Omung Kumar has done a fabulous job of making Randeep Hooda and Aishwariya Rai deliver good performances and bringing out the anger, despair and a sense of tragic loss that the family of Sarbjit Singh had faced. The torment that Sarbjit had to go through is also expressed vividly by Randip Hooda. Aishwariya manages well to very well depict the pain of a sister who has been trying to get justice for her brother.
Randip Hooda, on the other hand has delivered a brilliant performance as a prisoner. He has transformed into a very formidable actor with this film. This film would perhaps go a long way in making him the star that he deserves to be. He is good at evoking pity towards Sarabjit. The most impressive scenes in this movie are those which show him suffering inside the jail. The failure of the political class in preventing the tragedy from happening is starkly portrayed in the film and is a reminder of the utter helplessness of the citizens against the political and judicial systems that could be wrong and also that can have an adverse effect on the lives of citizens. Indeed, before anyone becomes very judgmental of the Pakistanis for their maltreatment of Sarbjit, they would do well to know that the Indian establishment has also indeed had elements wrongly framing innocent Indian citizens in terror cases and torturing them, and on the other hand, as for those viewing this through the prism of relifion, they would do well to note that the Pakistani Army has also committed gross excesses against Pakistani Muslim citizens in fighting the Pakistani Taliban terrorists.
The film nowhere attempts to show Pakistanis as a collectivity in negative light, showcasing elements in the Pakistani media sympathetic to Sarbjit in a positive light, the civilians who lost their near and dear ones in the blasts wrongly attributed to Sarbjit signing a document seeking Sarbjit’s clemency despite their own pain, Sarbjit’s sister repeatedly emphasizing Indo-Pak brotherhood, Sarbjit writing about nice Pakistanis aside from the torture he was subjected to in his letter to his sister and last but not the least, Sarbjit’s liberal, humanistic Pakistani Muslim lawyer. The film also shows how Kashmir Singh, on his release from Pakistan, publicly conceding his having been a spy understandably incited passions in Pakistan, clouding objectivity over Sarbjit. In one scene when Sarbjit has been almost fatally attacked, Sarbjit’s sister lashes out at extreme Muslim right-wingers in Pakistan while praising Sarbjit’s lawyer and does express some Indian national pride in never conceding defeat and even some pride in the Sikh imagery of courage, but there is no trace of generalized antipathy to Pakistani people. In fact, the film shows Sarbjit asking his sister to work for the release of a Pakistani prisoner in India suffering a fate similar to his, a cause she is shown taking up after his demise at the end of the film. An Indian Punjabi Muslim boy from Sarbjit’s village, by the way, has also been shown in positive light. Sarbjit’s sister even cites the Quran in a scene to point out how taking the life of an innocent civilian is un-Islamic.
The film shows how justice was completely denied to a human being. The film is about the sheer human emotions laid bare in front of the audience. It is as if Omung Kumar wanted us to suffer with Sarbjit and Dalbir and hence does not hold back at all. The bond between the brother and the sister is shown to be very deep, especially when Sarbjit convinces his sister to part with the still-born child. This is also reflected when she actually meets her brother in the jail.
The other actors like Richa Chaddha and Darshan Kumar have performed well in the limited role given to them by the director. Richa Chaddha, after a stellar performance this year in Masaan, and earlier in Gangs of Wasseypur series, has again given a good performance as Sarbjit’s wife. She has definitely carved out a niche for herself in depicting the inner suffering without overt expressions of pain, sadness or anger on her face masterfully. Darshan Kumar as Awais Shaikh has brought out the humanistic zeal to stand for just causes with his dignified attitude in handling the matter, even in the face of contempt and physical attacks on him and his property, and a scene in which he gets hysterical and sarcastically engages with an Islamist mob is stellar (there are indeed actually many such Pakistani liberals). The overall music used in the film is good, apart from the clichéd celebration scenes and dancing. The camera work is good and does well to depict the drama. This film is a good way of knowing about the saga, about the suffering that Sarbjit had to go through before being brutally murdered. As a work of art, the film does evoke the passions that such a story should.
(I would like to thank my friend Suvankur Sukul for his inputs.)
A very moving film. Would give it 8.5/10.