I have both praise for and criticism of the film Sarbjit. First thing first, the story of Sarbjit Singh– the Indian farmer that accidentally crossed the border into Pakistan in 1990, who was arrested by the Pakistani army and then accused of being a spy and terrorist and who eventually died 23 years later after an attack in prison– deserves to be seen. No matter what the criticisms of the film may be, the film ought to be applauded for the initiative alone because such stories ought to be told and such individuals known and remembered. So from the start, I urge you to see the film, if for no other reason but to get to know Sarbjit, his life and the life of his family in their struggle to prove his innocence and free him.
The film is no doubt a serious one. It has to be serious because it’s a biographical of a harsh reality and I think the film was made very close to the real life incidents. Having said that, I think that the filmmakers were caught between making a serious biographical and making a mainstream Bollywood film, which often happens with such scripts. I think that they made mistakes on two points, the song in the beginning of the film and the casting of Aishwarya.
It is my opinion that if one has decided to take up a serious drama, one ought to go the entire way and really make it a drama from start to finish. What filmmakers often do instead is to try to combine best of both worlds by not only making a very dramatic and tragic film but also adding some promotional elements that they think will help the audience go to the cinema hall. This plan usually fails. Trying to maintain both of these aspects generally results in disappointment for all audiences– the ones who went to see the story and the ones who went for the lead actors and songs. The truth is that you’re selling both parties short. It’s not that Tung Lak is a bad song or Aishwarya didn’t perform well. I love the song but it doesn’t fit into that script. And Aishwarya… she performed exceedingly well but the problem is that Aishwarya’s image of being a very beautiful and glamorous actress does not permit one to entirely concentrate on her acting, regardless of her performance. And as much as this is superficial and unfortunate, an audience goes to an Aishwarya film for that glamour factor and may feel deceived. And promoting such a serious film with romance photos and photos of Aishwarya applying makeup is deception indeed.
Haider was no biography but it’s a classic tragedy and had reminded us how a tragic drama can succeed both with the critics and the audience. I realized that the original play guided that script but I was still mesmerized by the balance of tragedy and comedy in the adaptation. Achieving that is far more difficult than it seems. I wish Sarbjit could have gone along those lines and I think that the script was a perfect fit for such. Despite the criticism, I emphasize that this film must be seen. If not in the cinema, then at home.