Sarfarosh (Rebel)

Director: John Matthew Matthan
Music: Jatin Lalit; Lyrics: Sameer, Nida Fazli, Indeewar, Israr Ansari
Year: 1999
Running Time: 155 minutes

With concerns of terrorism an everyday consideration in India it is no surprise that many of their films have reflected this.  From a film like Dil Se that has a passionate love story in a head on collision with suicidal bombers to Mission Kashmir that shows a family torn apart by the specter of terrorism, the issue has received many treatments and been seen from various perspectives. Sarfarosh takes the rather intriguing tact of almost treating terrorism as a criminal act and it becomes a compelling police procedural as a task force of Criminal Investigators track down and eliminate a Muslim terrorist cell. Until the final few minutes, the film for the most part avoids any nationalistic fervor that so many films from this genre bombastically embrace.

Guns are being smuggled from Pakistan across the border into India and being disbursed to various discontented groups  - the aim of the Pakistani authorities is to create chaos and numerous mini-wars. A busload of civilians are stopped on a lonely rural highway and led off the bus and machine-gunned down. This creates such an outrage that the Crime Branch back in Mumbai is assigned the case and Assistant Police Chief Rathod (Aamir Khan) is placed in charge. With his small group of men – one a hulking Muslim (Mukesh Rishi) – they use all means necessary to slowly track the gun smuggling and terrorist activities back to the source.
With basic police procedural cinematic methodology they start with a few small fish and work their way up the food chain – often resorting to brutal interrogations, lowlife informers, deadly shootouts and some good hunches. As they traverse the seedy bars and dangerous streets of Bombay, the film takes on an air of gritty authenticity and death feels only a close-up gunshot away. This noirish mood is offset by a love story of course – this is Bollywood – but it never really intrudes on the story and thankfully the filmmakers aren’t tempted to stoop to the cliché plot device of having her put in harms way.
The love interest comes in the lovely slim and shapely form of Sonali Bendre who has a lower lip that resembles a piece of overhanging fruit waiting to be nibbled on. Her role here is not large but it brings a much-needed break in the action and she gives the near ferocious Aamir a more human and lighter side. And since it’s not really a lot of fun watching a bunch of cops dance around, her presence allows for some visually enjoyable musical interludes! Rathod had known Sonali’s character in college but he was always too shy to approach her, but he comes across her once again when she introduces a ghazal singer played by Naseeruddin Shah at a concert that Rathod is attending. Now a cop, Aamir seems to have clearly overcome his shyness! Beating up suspects must have that effect.
The strongest point of the film is Aamir’s dead serious approach. He leaves his boyish charm at the doorstep and allows us into his dark hate and at times his brutal investigatory methods make him less than a sympathetic character. He has his own inner demons tugging at his sleeve and he often allows these to guide his actions as he uses his badge and gun to trample aside any concepts of civil rights. Whether the viewer is supposed to thoughtfully weigh his actions against the deeds of the terrorists or simply accept him as the hero doing his job isn’t quite clear. One can only assume that U.S. Attorney General Ashcroft lies awake at night dreaming that law enforcement here could do the same and clearly in these times it is a question many Americans are asking themselves – where do you draw the line between civil rights and civil safety.
The film has six songs and though in a tense fast moving narrative such as this it might seem that the musical numbers would only disrupt the flow, the director does a nice job of squeezing them in without really doing so. One lovely ballad (Zindagi maut na ban jaye) plays over the opening credits, another is a soft ghazal sung during a flashback of Aamir and Sonali meeting for the first time, two are daydreams by Sonali as she falls in love, one is a sexy cabaret song as the cops look for suspects in the bars of Bombay and the final song is a tribal dance ceremony of some kind. The choreography is only average at best with Jo Hal Dil ka being the best primarily due to Sonali looking absolutely yummy in the rain!

My rating for this film: 7.5

Song 1

Song 2

Song 3