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IFFI 2021: Wanted people to take Jallianwala Bagh with them after watching Sardar Udham, says Shoojit Sircar

The filmmaker spoke at a masterclass about the need to depict history accurately to make sure it is not repeated.

Our Correspondent

Sardar Udham (2021) is the first biopic by filmmaker Shoojit Sircar, otherwise known for quirky films on society and relationships like Vicky Donor (2012), Piku (2015) and October (2018).

Based on the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar in 1919 and its impact on a young freedom fighter, the biopic, starring Vicky Kaushal, captures the tragedy of peaceful protestors brutally shot on the orders of General Dyer.

At the current International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Goa, the filmmaker spoke about the film at a masterclass session titled ‘Creating cinematic success and the storytelling of Sardar Udham’. Producer Ronnie Lahiri also joined the session and shared insights on the making of the film.

Sardar Udham is based on the life of Udham Singh, a freedom fighter from Punjab who assassinated Sir Michael O'Dwyer, the lieutenant governor of Punjab at the time of the massacre, in London 21 years later to avenge Jallianwala Bagh.

Speaking of the emotional turmoil the crew went through while shooting the massacre sequence, Sircar revealed the fundamental imprint he wanted his film to leave in the psyche of his audience. “I wanted people to take Jallianwala Bagh with them when they finish watching the movie,” he said.

The sequence took almost 22 days to shoot and was a harrowing experience, taking a heavy psychological toll of the cast and crew, the director said. It made a particularly strong impact on leading man Kaushal.

"While shooting the scene, I had an idea in my mind as to how it should be, but I decided to not convey it exactly like that to Vicky,” the director revealed. “Vicky was kind of confused and that confusion led him to become organic. As the days passed, the crew, too, became calmer.”

Discussing the character of Udham Singh, the filmmaker said a multi-layered silence was employed to bring out the reflective disposition of the freedom fighter. “Sardar Udham was an 'internal' person and we tried to portray him that way," he said. "We used mostly musical scores. I told music director Shantanu Moitra that we will create some scores which could match this silence.”

Sircar said the creative use of the musical scores, coupled with extended sequences tied together with the invisible strings of silence, enabled the team to manifest the latent sound of that silence, letting the sequences float effortlessly along.

Underlining the idea that heroes are found in the unlikeliest of places, he said, “Heroism is about speaking the right thing as opposed to staying silent.” He added that when the team sought to portray the life of Sardar Udham, they wanted to portray his ordinariness as well.

The team carried out extensive research for the historical film and no compromises were made in the production which had been nurtured for 20 years by Sircar. “We undertook intense research using all available resources," he said. "For the Jallianwala Bagh sequence, apart from research, we relied heavily on the accounts of survivors.”

Offering aspiring filmmakers a glimpse into the directorial eye, Sircar said, “While making movies like Sardar Udham, I make a conscious effort to not play to the gallery. [Otherwise] when I make a movie, I first think from the perspective of the audience. I ask myself: how would I as a viewer want to see the movie?

"We believe in making movies on ideas and ideologies," the filmmaker added. "People watching them — not fame or prizes — is what is important for us.”

Asked about the significance of "Koi zinda hai?", the iconic, heartrending dialogue from Sardar Udham, Sircar said, “It is not just a dialogue. It can be deciphered in many ways. It is my question, addressed to the collective conscience of the viewers, in order to shake them to the very core.”

Underlining the importance of history, Sircar said, “It is very important to portray history accurately in order to make sure that we won’t repeat it.”

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IFFI Indian cinema