Aishwarya Rai shrieks, but Randeep Hooda soars in 'Sarbjit'

A young man languished in jail, in a country other than his, for 23 years!

Yet, not many of his countrymen knew of him, or how destiny denied him a worthy end.

While director Omung Kumar rallies to amend that history lapse and make a hero out of an "unsuspecting criminal", his narrative fumbles and falters, reducing Sarbjit's story into mere Bollywood fluff.

It's his casting gaffe that stops the movie from turning into something genuinely spectacular.

He'd rather give full power to a green-eyed (former) beauty queen, only because she promises more visibility, box-office presence and Cannes red-carpet glory.

It would've worked, and possibly gone on to win her applause, had he not pitched her alongside two incredibly talented actors - Randeep Hooda and Richa Chadha. What the casting does, unfortunately, is expose Aishwarya Rai Bachchan's inability to bring to life a woman, who deserves much more than a horrible wig, specs and a fake accent.

Kumar, himself, is unable to weave together a convincing story to lend integrity or passion to a life, cursed and crushed by political conspiracies.

Minutes after the curtains roll up, we witness Aishwarya's strangely choreographed moves, amplified by a background score, to depict loss and pain.

It's only after we meet Randeep, as he's boxed and tortured gruesomely, that we sense we could be onto something outstanding. But that feeling is soon lost.

As Randeep transforms Sarbjit from a chirpy, young lad into a skinny prisoner over 140-minutes of screen time, you marvel at his ability to bring to life a man, locked down in the letters he once wrote to his sister. It's during those rare moments of madness, as his solitude begins to wear him down, that you sense what a great performer Randeep truly is. His staggering weight-loss accentuates his act, but Randeep doesn't let Sarbjit remain a mere skeleton.

Randeep finds a true match, in performance and (on-screen) love, in Richa. She lends immense grace and dignity to Sukh, without ever turning her into a sob fest. While she owes much of it to the real Sukh, Richa deserves equal credit, if not more, for handling every moment of unsettling pain with maturity and subtlety. It's when she confronts Dalbir over being the face of the fight for justice, even though she suffers just as much or more, you sense her real worth.

In fact, Kumar weaves in many tear-jerker moments, but it's when Sarbjit and Sukh are in the forefront that we are crushed. Every other time, it appears highly staged and contrived.

Aishwarya  shrieks, abundantly, and even hisses her dislike for the men across the border, but she never really surrenders to Dalbir or her loss. While her filmography might show promise, this movie fizzles despite her intense glare. There's too much focus on her deglam, and aged get-up, that the rest of the emotions turn inconsequential.

Casting oversights aside, Kumar refuses to give more insight into Sarbjit's life, and banks entirely on what Dalbir hands him. Like most of his Bollywood peers, even he plays up the Pakistan stereotype, even when he lets his leading lady scream otherwise. There's even a note written to Sarbjit in English, a language many newspapers suggest was alien to him. Kumar also shows Sarbjit and a handful of prisoners ride to court in a bus, which has 'Pakistan' written in bold outside. laughably taking spoon-feeding to an all-time low.

Despite so much going against him, Kumar does score on a few points. When he features Doordarshan's celebrated newsreaders of the 1990s to establish the timeline, and when he displays Sarbjit's real-life album as the end-credits roll are special.But those gems are far too few.

There was injustice done, no doubt, but is this Sarbjit's true story? Kumar's account is horribly one-sided, and heavily Bollywoodised to warrant our attention, or applause.

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