Film: Sardar Udham
Director: Shoojit Sircar
Cast: Vicky Kaushal, Shaun Scott, Stephen Hogan Amol Parashar, Banita Sandhu, Kirsty Averton, Andrew Havill as General Reginald Dyer and Ritesh Shah
“Let the world know I was a revolutionary,” as these words ring loud and clear Shoojit Sircar’s intentions become apparent, even if the lines come rather late in the narrative. Here lived a man Sardar Udham Singh, who may have chosen an act of violence to avenge the brutal massacre at Jalianwala Bagh. But the idea that impelled him to shoot Michael O'Dwyer, who was the lieutenant governor of the Punjab in India at the time of Jalianwala Bagh massacre was to register a voice of protest. We all know this, only Shoojit’s ambitious project drives it further.
Films on martyrs often tend to be either too eulogistic or too jingoistic. Trust Shoojit to choose a language that is understated yet impactful. Why he builds his narrative almost like a crescendo which like a symphony goes back and forth from Punjab to London till it strikes home with a force that sweeps you with its creative impact.
To begin with we meet the adult Udham going by several names such as Sher Singh and aliases till he lands in London. That it took him years to find his target is a mystery that is not dwelt upon too clearly. Except that he probably had a chance to assassinate O'Dwyer on earlier occasions.
But close to the finale his reasons and motives are depicted without any ambiguity as Shoojit recreates the horror that horrific Jalianwala Bagh incident was. The massacre that has gone down in the history as the epitome of British imperialism has since haunted not only those who may have lived through the harrowing times but even the post-Partition generation.
Did Udham single-handedly save and ferry the dying and wounded as shown in the film? Shoojit, who has researched the subject for over two decades, ought to know better. Or, is the maker in him trying to portray how Udham carried the burden of the dead if not on his shoulders, most certainly in his heart.
Udham’s angst and seething anger are more than understandable. National Award winning Vicky Kushal in the titular part mirrors the emotions as only a fine actor like him can. His intensity is palpable through his eyes, his silences as much as the few dialogues that he gets to speak. Writers Shubhendu Bhattacharya and· Ritesh Shah, like the director, believe in brevity is the soul of wit. They shun pomposity as well as sloganeering. Dialogue writer Ritesh Shah who also plays a key role as Koppikar goes for economy of words. In the film’s most dramatic and climactic moments, Vicky as younger Udham goes through the pile of bodies, the one liner ‘koi jinda hai’ in itself is a commentary on the unpardonable act of General Dyer.
If much of the cruelty of the British officers manifests in what they have gone on record to say, there is no added spice to what the two legendary figures Udham and Bhagat Singh (played well by Amol Parashar) stood for. Yes, the camaraderie between these two greats and how Udham was inspired and influenced by Bhagat Singh surfaces more than once. In a particular scene where he questions the detective Inspector Swain (Stephen Hogan) investigating him, what he was doing when he was 23 is once again a reminder of how Bhagat Singh kissed gallows at this very young age and how highly Udham regarded his guru.
While the film is essentially a biopic of Sardar Udham, Jallianwala Bagh incident is as much a character here. It’s here that Shoojit doesn’t flinch and the barbarism of the General Reginald Dyer is writ in no uncertain terms. Without saying it in so many words Shoojit lets the disturbing visuals speak.
If cinematographer Avik Mukhopadhyay brings alive the period feel, be it in London or Punjab, the musical score by Shantanu Mohapatra lends poignant timbre to the turbulent chapter of our history. Archival footage, including grabs of The Tribune newspaper from that era lends further authenticity. Among the many excesses that Sircar steers clear of are unnecessary songs. Even in the romantic interlude (Banita Sandhu appears in a small part) there is no Bollywoodisation.
Telling us a brave tale of a braveheart Shooijt’s Sardar Udham is undeniably a brave attempt in cinematic recreation of significant chapter of history. Streaming on Amazon Prime, it stirs you without going for your tear-ducts.
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