The advantage of a beautiful face is that doesn't require much make-up. All that pancake and colour should ideally do, is enhance its natural beauty. That's where one of the most awaited releases of this year goes wrong. Sarbjit is a tragic drama based on the life of Indian national Sarabjit Singh (Randeep Hooda) who was caught and jailed to death by Pakistani officials who mistook him to be Ranjit Singh, the culprit behind the blasts in Lahore earlier. This is a poignant story in itself because an innocent man languished in jail for over two decades while his family, led by his sister Dalbir Kaur (Aishwarya Rai) fought a hard, persevering battle across the border for a large part of their lives to bring him home.
Spanning the period between 1990s and 2000s, the film criss-crosses India and Pakistan and is set against the cynical political backdrop of the two countries. Sarabjit's story unfolds along the intercutting of terror attacks, peace talks and regime changes between the two countries during that time.
Shortly after Sarabjit goes missing in 1990, his family launches their fight to bring him back. A journey across borders and administrations, one that wears them down. The film traces that journey till he died in 2013.
Told from the common man's point of view, the story touches upon the larger picture behind terror and politics and the role that empathy and faith can play in ushering peace among people.
For those who grew up in the 1990s, an era without internet, mobiles and watched Doordarshan on television, scenes recreated from that time, including clips of popular news anchors, elicit a quick whiff of nostalgia.
The 131-minute film goes through troughs and peaks, peaks of engagement and troughs of drag. Richa Chadda does a competent job playing Sarabjit's wife. Hooda seems to be going from strength to strength, with his Punjabi diction on spot, he manages to get under the skin of a tortured man. Watch out for his scenes with the teeth get-up.
Someone needs to tell Rai who had her heart in the right place with this film, that it's not just about make-up—whether strutting provocative purple lip colour at Cannes or going de-glam in Sarbjit—human emotion and its evocation is not skin deep. Exaggerated facial expressions, unconvincing Punjabi accent, and shrilly dialogue delivery do not an actor make.
If anything or anyone, it's the strength of the real story of Sarabjit and his family that carries the film.
Director: Omung Kumar
Cast: Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Randeep Hooda, Richa Chadda