Tuesday, May 24, 2016


Tragedy of Hope

It is a senseless tragedy—a man drunkenly crosses the border and spends the next 23 years under horrific conditions in a Pakistani prison. Sarbjit’s story has been well documented, and it known how his sister Dalbir Kaur fought doggedly for years to get her brother back. His mutilated body was returned, reportedly with organs missing, ostensibly the work of his fellow prisoners.

Because the story is known, Omung Kumar’s Sarbjit should have focused on the impact the man’s incarceration on him and his family struggling back in the village—his wife Sukhpreet (Richa Chadha) described as a “half-widow”, his daughters and the rest of the inexplicably missing brood. This was a film of small sorrows, joy, hope and despair; instead Kumar made it a loud and curiously unmoving melodrama. Dalbir Kaur is at the centre of the action, making the rounds of government officials and ministers, making speeches, going on hunger strikes and candle light vigils. There is a hint in a line by her niece that she is doing all this and prolonging their misery, because she has no family of her own; her only child died in infancy and her excessive devotion to her brother, led to the break-up of her marriage.

What does come across somewhat, is the apathy of the government and officialaldom on both sides—but that it nothing new. There are more prisoners languishing in prisons in India and Pakistan, accused of terrorism or spying, some must be innocent too, but nobody cares.  Dalbir’s campaign for her brother, aided by conscientious Pakistani lawyer Awaid Sheikh (Darshan Kumaar) did not make a dent in the cross border hostility or inhuman treatment of prisoners (though it is alleged, Ajmal Kasab was offered great hospitality in a Mumbai prison). Every time there is an ‘incident’ like the Parliament attack or 26/11, the film suggests, Sarbjit’s hopes of release are dashed. He is a tiny victim of a much larger political mess.

Randeep Hooda has done all it takes to portray the mental and physical suffering of Sarbjit, but he is not the ‘hero’,  Dalbir is, and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan can take the character only up to a point, when the focus is on appearance and hysterics; she is made to age, while no such trouble is taken for Richa Chadha, who is still capable of conveying more emotion just hovering in the background.

There are really no peaks in the narrative, and amidst all the high-pitched screeching and chest-thumping, there a few quiet moments, which are so effective that the director should have realized what the tone of the film should be—certainly not sledgehammer.


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