Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Bollywood Essentials: Sarfarosh(1999)

We all have movies that we watch over and over, so many times that we can practically keep them on mute and fill in for the actors. No? Come on, I am sure it’s not just me. They may not be your favourite movies necessarily, just something you can watch anytime. You can call them comfort movies that you can just slide into the player and let them work their magic or sick day movies that maybe make you feel a little better. You don’t even have to see them from start. They can just turn up randomly while browsing through the channels and you can pick it up from wherever it is. LOTR trilogy is one such movie for me(Yes. For me, it is One Movie). I have no idea how many times I have seen it and how many more times will I see it. I just stopped counting after 15. It is quite possibly the movie I have seen most. But if there is one movie that can go head to head against it, it is probably Sarfarosh(1999).

Director John Mathew Matthan’s debut film Sarfarosh is a story of drug and arms trafficking across the India-Pakistan border from the point of view of Assistant Police Commissioner Ajaysingh Rathode, who is in-charge of the case. Young, dynamic and idealistic Ajay has a history with terrorism. Few years ago, his father tried to testify against some terrorist group in a case that involved one of his colleagues. To prevent him from doing that, they kill Ajay’s older brother, kidnap his father and cut his tongue out. He joins police force to take revenge on them.

When a Naxalite group with a leader called Veeran attacks a bus and brutally guns down everyone in it in the remote areas of Chandrapur forest, a special team with Rathod at the helm is assembled to investigate how did sophisticated weapons like AK47 reached in these remote areas? Initial investigation points towards a local leader Bala Thakur who immediately runs away to his supplier, Sultan, in Mumbai, the minute police come knocking at his door. In Mumbai, Ajay is great admirer of Ghazal singer Gulfam Hassan and after getting introduced to him through a mutual friend, forms a great friendship with him. Working on the case with the help of another officer, Inspector Salim, with a great network of informers, Ajay and his team try to reach to the bottom of this case and as it turns out, Gulfam Hassan becomes much more than just a friend for Ajay.

Sarfarosh has one of the best screenplays I have seen. Everything, every single piece of nugget you see on screen has some role to play. Mathew Matthan connects everything together to form a beautifully woven piece with Spielbergian accuracy. Every character, every sub-plot has a crystal clear role and they serve it with due diligence. He didn’t shy away from making blood splatter on screen but the most daring thing script does is, to the best of my knowledge, it was the first film to ever point its figure directly to our neighbouring nation for the problems across the border, their maligning intent and it’s reach very high up the order. If there is any chink in this armour, it is that most of the characters or at least the important ones are primarily either black or white. Whatever shades of grey appear in either heroes or villains are more like occupational hazards. But neither did I realize this up until very recently nor does it take away anything from the greatness of this film.

Having a love story as a part of film’s narrative is kind of a must in Indian films. Even if we can easily do without them, film makers tend to find some way to make them an important plot point of the story, sometimes even making for a disastrous output. Of course, John Mathew Matthan could not do without romantic subplot for our protagonist completely but he finds a way to use that to add another layer on the narrative. More importantly, he keeps it as a secondary storyline and never lets this peer-pressure subplot of love story smoulder the soul of whole film. In ‘90s where sweeping love stories were at their peak, this film once again stands out to me in that regard.

I have mentioned before that I have seen Sarfarosh countless many times. One of the reasons it still works after so many watches is, of course, brilliant screenplay and direction I talked about. But it is also has an incredible ensemble cast and endlessly quotable dialogues. Ajay Rathod, played by Aamir Khan and Gulfam Hassan, played by Naseeruddin Shah, are two most important characters. If you know anything about Hindi industry, you will identify them as the two of the best actors currently working and they both are at the top of their form in their respective roles. It won't be what it is without either of them but in my opinion, what really takes the cake is whole bunch of amazing performances and characters from the rest of cast.

Insp. Salim, Ajay’s Second in command, played by Mukesh Rishi, Mirchi Seth, Gulfam Hassan’s right hand man for all his illegal activities, played by Akhilendra Mishra and Veeran, naxalite leader whose attack snowballs into this avalanche that end up taking everyone down, played by Govind Namdev, are the standouts of this amazing cast. Richness of this cast runs so deep that I can write pages about them without even mentioning two main characters and words that come out of their mouths are principal reason to make even the part-timers memorable. Take Fatka, a small-time police informer, Mala, a bar dancer or police inspector in Chandrapur who pop up for an occasional scene here and there but leave with some of the best lines of film. If you haven’t noticed, I have come this far without mentioning the lead actress Seema, played by Sonali Bendre. I don’t have anything against this character or this actress. Even she does her job of providing a romantic relief well and in a way, helps Ajay find a vital clue that shakes the stagnant case. It’s just that there is so much more to admire that their love story takes a back seat.

I have so many fond memories of watching Sarfarosh. It is the only movie I have seen thrice in a single day. It is the movie two of my cousins refused to watch it with me because I wouldn’t shut up repeating the dialogues after. Considering it is such a sincere, realistic take on something very serious, it might sound weird to call this a comfort movie. But I really love this movie and I am happy while seeing it, even if someone is getting whacked on screen. After having seen it so many times, I know exactly what’s coming next and I still find myself as excited as the first time I saw it. And I also know that I will watch it again, and again and again, probably with the same excitement every time.

Rating(out of 5):

Previous Essentials:


  1. one of my favorite Aamir khan's movies amongst 1) Dil chahta hai 2) Talaash & this one . . . John is just lost after this promising one !

    I regularly read your views on movies . . . & just forgot to wish on your 2nd blogoversary !!

    You've created just awesome movie blog . Thanks . Nirav

    1. Love both the movies you mentioned though I lean little more towards TZP and RDB as favourites.

      Thanks a lot for your kind words and for reading the blog. Glad you found it worth to return. That means a lot. :)

  2. most patriotic film I have ever seen such a great movie it was.

  3. I'm still very surprised by your love for this movie! I mean, I think I liked it - but I don't remember because I found it quite forgettable. Anyway, you do make me want to re-watch it some time.

    1. There is nothing to be surprised, Mette! Everyone loves this movie. Ask Nikhat. :) I am glad you are giving it another chance at least and hope this time you'll be more enamoured.


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