Streaming on Amazon 16th October 2021
Shoojit Sarcar is one of those directors who has always had a distinct style in the way he narrates his stories. In his career so far Shoojit has explored many interesting subjects and has been mostly successful barring last year’s Gulaboo Sitaboo. With Sardar Udham Singh the director takes the life of a freedom fighter without succumbing to the usual trope of hyper nationalism that we generally associate with films of this genre. Shoojit presents a layered biopic which strikes a chord with the audiences. Sure the pace is slow and the initial portions are a bit hazy but the eventual product more than makes up for it. It also helps that Vicky Kaushal is in terrific form as Sardar Udham Singh.
The film opens in a jail in Punjab in 1931 where a freedom fighter is just released. From then the story is split into two timelines for a while. One part of it is the interactions between him and Bhagat Singh (Amol Parashar). The other part is Udham fleeing from Punjab police and his early days as revolutionary. This spilt narrative returns back after Udham has killed Dwyer (Shaun Scoot). Here Shoojit juggles between the present day interrogations by a Scotland Yard officer, Swain (Stephen Hogan) and the other one is the journey of the freedom fighter in UK from 1930 to 1940. In between there is also the heartrending Jallianwala Bagh massacre and the deep impact it had on Udham Singh.
The biggest strength of the film is its writing. There are many powerful moments that make you applaud the writers. One of my favorite scenes is when Bhagat Singh explains his socialist commitment, he says the following words. “A revolutionary has to follow certain principles. You can’t be prejudiced, communal or casteist. There can be no social or economic difference. The only truth is equality.” There is another hugely impactful scene where Swain tries to break Uddam Singh’s silence by saying that you must really hate the British. Udham Singh replies back with a calm smile on his face, he says the following words: “No, I’ve many British friends. I don’t hate you either. You are just doing your Job.”
Lastly there is also a moment in a factory where Udham Singh is working at a factory floor in London. Udham gets enraged by a British supervisor who insults his friend. However, Udham’s anger doesn’t come from nationalistic sentiments alone, he tells everyone to stop working and these include a few British employees too.
The British characters don’t come across as your usual stereotypes and as a result Shaun Scott and also Hogan shine in their limited parts. The changing equation between Uddam and Swain is well developed. Towards the end you feel the detective having a sense of admiration towards Udham.
By the very nature of its story the light scenes are far and few, however the ones between Udham and Bhagat Singh are sure to bring a smile to your face. You wish they had more scenes together.
The massacre of Jallianwala Bagh is something which doesn’t need a special introduction. It brings back many horrendous memories even to this date. Shoojit Sarcar’s recreation of the ghastly incident is successful in bringing out the required emotions.
Vicky Kaushal as I earlier said is terrific. He ably switches from being explosive to restraint as per the demand of the script. Amol Parashar is a great choice for the role of Bhagat Singh. The actor makes a huge impact in all the scenes that he is in.
Also read: Looking at Partition through Bollywood lens