Film: Sarabha: Cry for Freedom
Director: Kavi Raz
Cast: Japtej Singh, Kavi Raz, Ankur Rathee, Mahabir Bhullar, Mukul Dev, Jasbir Jassi, Alex Reece, Malkeet Rauni and Jaspinder Cheema
A legendary revolutionary, Kartar Singh Sarabha was all of 19 when he was hanged to death by the British for his involvement in the Ghadar Movement. The biopic ‘Sarabha’, directed by Kavi Raz, stays true to history and doesn’t glamorise the subject one bit.
The stories of revolutionaries are worth telling a zillion times, but sticking to facts is what makes it a different visual tale each time. In ‘Sarabha’, while one sees good performances by the actors, including Kavi Raz, in the direction department, the film falls short of leaving an impact on viewers.
Japtej Singh of ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’ fame plays the titular role and embraces the character with all his heart and mind. Compare Sarabha’s pictures available online with what is delivered on the 70 mm, and the recreation seems impeccable. The costume department makes all the characters look believable and straight out of the colonial era; the actors breathe soul into their dialogues.
In keeping with the character of Sarabha, perceived to be a man of few words, Japtej’s role is a play of silences, expressions and some noteworthy dialogues. The songs, some said to have been written by the young revolutionary himself, are well placed in the screenplay. As a viewer, one feels it would have been interesting to witness the impact of Sarabha’s death on Punjabis and Indians. At the same time, important aspects should have been picturised as scenes and not mere songs. Like raiding thanas, sarkari daftars and zamindars as the “Ghadar Party’s last resort to get funds” or Sarabha learning to fly aeroplanes.
Jasbir Jassi (as Kanshi Ram) and Jaspinder Cheema (as Gulab Kaur) register their presence in the film, but the other characters are merely there. For a 2 hour, 17 minute film, it’s understandably tough to develop a character arc for every contemporary of Sarabha. However, Sohan Singh Bhakna’s character, played by Raz, is well etched out; he had inspired Sarabha to campaign against the British colonial rule. Mukul Dev as Harnam Singh doesn’t leave Sarabha’s side till the end.
In terms of cinematography, casting and performance, it’s a well-made biopic. But better direction and editing would have made it a timeless experiment in Punjabi cinema and a story that long needed to be told.
For many of us who have heard stories of how Bhagat Singh was inspired by Sarabha and had imagined them meeting, the film breathes life into it, and just for that effort, it’s worth watching.