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Film review: Sarbjit

As a reviewer it’s easy to say a film is ‘great go and watch it’, but as much as we are wordsmiths by profession, there are some films that affect us beyond our day job. Sarbjit is one. I go about my daily life thinking an injustice is when one of my peers bags a celebrity interview that I don’t. When shocking atrocities appears on my social media feed I feel pangs of guilt and horror, but then move onto the next tweet of something cute and funny, which I share and comment on. It’s so easy to close our eyes and ears to what actually matters in life, which is why when a filmmaker teams up with megastars to bring a real-life injustice to life, in a medium that will reach the masses, it’s something that should be championed.

Sarbjit is a harrowing account of an innocent man imprisoned for 23 years for a crime he didn’t commit. Some scenes of torture and inhumanity clearly make for a difficult watch, but what is sadder is that the story, based on the real-life of Sarabjit Singh, (Randeep Hooda), is not an isolated incident. The film is an insight into the tales of many who suffer silently for years, and who may never get the justice they are owed. The film reels you in emotionally from the beginning, breaks your heart, makes you lose your faith in humanity, then fills you with pride knowing that there are people in the world who are standing up for what’s right, despite the obstacles in the way. Yet it is not the struggles and hardships in the story that will stay in your mind; it's the simple moments of pure humanity like when Sarabjit is sent a picture in jail, illustrated by his daughters, and his attempt at making tea from his prison cell that will tug at your heart-strings and make you reach for a tissue.

The film follows Sarabjit’s story and the plight of his family, headed up by sister Dalbir Kaur (Aishwarya Rai-Bachchan), who leads the fight for his freedom. An intense and extraordinary performance, Aishwarya’s role is that of a brave, strong and persistent woman for whom family and justice mean everything. She brings an energy to her performance that is fierce and intelligent, she never strays from the most important thing; that she is representing a real woman who is still alive today, and she excels at giving Dalbir the credit she deserves.

Randeep’s portray of Sarabjit seals his reputation as one of the best actors in Bollywood today. His portrayal of Sarabjit is raw, sensitive and balanced. The viewer feels his every emotion and only an actor with natural talent and passion can perform in this way. Yes it’s a Bollywood film and yes Bollywood is often accused of ‘over-acting’ and ‘hamming up’ performances. Some interpretations of Sarabjit may have gone that way, but thankfully Director Omung Kumar’s vision delivered by Randeep is a perfectly measured example of how valuable and impactful story-telling in Indian cinema can be.

Sarbjit achieves more than simply being a piece of entertainment. Filmmakers have the power to captivate and connect with an audience in a way that no other medium can, and this is a skill Omung has achieved with his honest, humane handling of this sensitive story. Sarbjit should be watched not just for its credentials as a film, but as a piece of cinema that is a stark reminder of the topic of human rights, and why they affect every single person on earth.

SARBJIT releases in the UK on 20th May by Grand Showbiz Media & Entertainment.

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