Sarbjit is full of heart - and heart-breaking!
Indian Sarbjit is wrongfully imprisoned in a Pakistani jail - can his sister Dalbir have him freed?
Straight away, Sarbjit is Randeep Hooda's triumph. In 1990, a simple Punjabi farmer Sarbjit (Randeep) drunkenly wanders across the India-Pakistan border - a milestone in a field - merrily singing 'Jai Jai Shiv Shankar', suddenly captured and tossed into Pakistani prison. This is no ordinary prison - Sarbjit is locked in a box, drowned in water and rats, tortured to say he's Ranjit, an Indian accused of terrorism in Pakistan.
As Sarbjit struggles to survive, his sister Dalbir (Aishwarya) struggles to make the authorities admit Sarbjit's identity - and free him. With Dalbir running from haughty CM to indifferent PM, eating under dusty trees, holding dharnas in streets, Sarbjit's home slowly collapses. His father dies, his wife Sukh (Richa) languishes, his daughters are torn between frustration and grief.
Can Sarbjit ever come home?
Randeep Hooda brings Sarbjit to life with utter sweetness - ever-smiling, no bitterness mars Sarbjit's face. As in 12 Years A Slave, the hope to live and love keeps Sarbjit going, his nails and teeth growing black as he gets an annual bar of soap, cherishing a fragment of moonlight, excitedly washing his rags before his family visits - after 18 years of his imprisonment. Whether he's eating a sweet, stroking a cat or answering, "Ilzam?" with a bewildered "Pata nahin", Randeep imbues Sarbjit with beautiful, powerful humanity.
Aishwarya presents Dalbir, fraying, yet growing under strain. There are theatrical moments like Dalbir addressing a Red Fort rally or ticking off fatwa fans in Lahore. In trying to show her strain, Dalbir's make-up grows too grey, the effort too palpable. But scenes like Dalbir being hit by gunmen of the Punjab CM - who watches with elegant disinterest - move you. Richa plays Sukh with quiet intensity while Darshan plays Sarbjit's lawyer Awais with a breeziness that's a tad over the top.
Yet, the story deftly weaves in a larger backdrop, from Pokhran to Parliament, 26/11 to Kasab, the editing sharp, the visuals - blue-green skies, grim dark cells, Sukh's red 'lapstick', Sarbjit's blackened ankles - memorable. The direction depicts a human being and a human truth - individuals often face prisons of politics where the innocent can be shackled in darkness.
Sarbjit breaks your heart - but in contrast to India-Pak fantasies like 'Gadar', it bears no blame. It makes you cherish your loved ones - and appreciate others too.
Sarbjit makes a point. Humans come and go. Humanity survives.