Bollywood’s ongoing fascination with a grittier, more realistic type of cinema continues with this film inspired by the real-life story of Sarbjit Singh, an Indian farmer who was convicted for spying and taking part in bomb attacks, and sentenced to death by a Pakistani court in 1991. He claimed he’d accidentally strayed into Pakistan from his village on the border with India.
In the film we see Sarbjit (Randeep Hooda) drunkenly stagger across the then unmarked border from his nearby Punjabi village after a night of booze. The bulk of the film follows the enduring efforts of his sister Dalbir (Aishwarya Rai-Bachchan) to clear his name and free him from prison. Her struggle would last 23 years.
There is much to commend in this gripping one-woman-against-the-system drama, especially as it is played out against the backdrop of major events in the turbulent India-Pakistan historical relationship. But it suffers from an inability to break completely free from the shackles of the ‘formula’. Many scenes seem contrived to make this yet another star-vehicle for its lead actress, with no concession to her somewhat limited acting range. Rai-Bachchan over-emotes and relies on shouting and wide-eyed expressions to convey anguish. Nine songs feature on the soundtrack and their liberal use disrupts the narrative.
Director Omung Kumar is clearly convinced of his man’s innocence, and takes what you might view as an unsubtle, patriotic approach. That said, ‘Sarbjit’ is at times genuinely moving and features a family reunion sequence that will reduce you to tears.