Based on real-life incidents, Sarbjit gets overtly melodramatic than evocative, writes Deepa Gauri
To start with, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan as Dalbir Kaur, the sister of Sarabjit Singh (Randeep Hooda), imprisoned in Pakistan on charges of spying, on a near-impossible mission of proving his innocence, is a miscast.
She might be a fine actress, but when it comes to portraying the nuances of a complex role, Aishwarya is sadly out of her depth - and this shows all through in Sarbjit.
Perhaps, it is in the way the narrative is propelled in vintage Bollywood melodramatic style than in a more soulful and evocative manner that the characters and the proceedings happen at arm's length.
You are seldom drawn into the emotional core of the story - it has too many subtexts, and given the Bollywood treatment, it becomes plastic and superficial.
Director Omung Kumar apparently revels in biopics but his approach to them is fluffier than real, as Mary Kom showed, and as Sarbjit reiterates.
Unsure of its identity as a feature film, a film inspired on real life incidents or a documentary on the life of Sarabjit Singh, Sarbjit meanders more than it should.
Aishwarya is effective when she must look away from the screen with vacant or pensive eyes, but when it comes to taking a hard grip on the role, she tends to go over the top.
After all, her character calls for many hats to be worn: An abused wife, a distraught mother, a helpless sister, and yet a woman in charge. All we get, are loud lectures and screechy outbursts.
The foil is Randeep Hooda, who evokes the existential helplessness and angst of a man wronged. The whole scene where he is caged, with rats thrown in for company, and his inevitable surrender to accepting the charges are brilliantly picturised - more so for the sheer talent in Randeep. Richa Chadda, as his wife, has little to do.
Flitting between past to present, Sarbjit had all the potential for great cinema. After all, this is a tale that has universal resonance. Wrongly implicated lives make compelling drama, but only if you do not drown it in absurd melodrama.
That is precisely what happens in Sarbjit; the emotional manipulation is too obvious; yes, you gasp when you see the pitiful treatment that is meted out to Sarabjit but when the narrative shifts to the crusade of Dalbir, it gets bogged down in too much mush.
On final count though, we just feel that the real man, who eventually dies after being attacked by fellow inmates in jail, deserved a better story. So did his sister who fought a brave war; reducing it to a typical Bollywood drama serves little purpose.
That is what nags you after the film. What was the whole point? To make a film on a news story that was more shocking in real life and to turn into soulless gloss - well, only Bollywood does it. And sadly, they get away with it.
Starring: Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Randeep Hooda
Directed by Omung Kumar
Now playing at theatres in the UAE