New Delhi, 23 Mar 2018 16:25 IST
Diljit Dosanjh shines in the film that poignantly illuminates the bravery of the Sikh soldiers who fought as part of the British Indian army in World War I.
On 23 March 1931, a young revolutionary filled with nationalistic fervour was executed for planning a conspiracy against the British colonial government. The 23-year-old Bhagat Singh remains a luminous presence in the history of India's struggle for independence. Saluting his unstinted bravery in the face of certain death, director Pankaj Batra's war film Sajjan Singh Rangroot has been released on his death anniversary and captures a crucial moment in our history, when Indian soldiers fought as part of the British Indian army in World War I.
Sajjan Singh (Diljit Dosanjh) is a soldier fuelled by the possibility of freedom and finds himself summoned to fight in The Great War. Leaving home, hearth and his beloved behind, he marches off to an unknown land to fight for the British master.
The film traces the hardships faced by the Lahore Regiment of the British Indian army as it fights German forces during the war. Proud of their identity, the Sikh warriors face discrimination and the condescension of the British soldiers even as they fight side by side for a common cause.
The formidable commander of the unit, Subedar Zorawar Singh (Yograj Singh), is the glue that holds the troops together, commanding them to concentrate on the work at hand and rise above the insolent behaviour of their British counterparts. Under Zorawar Singh's able leadership, the troops remain motivated and meet with his thunderous disapproval when they even set a toe out of line.
Director Batra maintains the intensity of the film by interspersing it with the camaraderie, humour and restlessness of the soldier who manages to scrounge up hope when there is none to be found, all of which are etched out quite well.
Some of the more poignant moments are when Sajjan Singh contemplates whether their contribution in the war will mean something in their own country. He asks Zorawar Singh, "Will the masters value the blood that we shed?" To which the subedar offers the only response he can: "Maybe."
For Dosanjh, who seems keen on expanding his oeuvre beyond the comedies that have established him as the superstar of Punjabi cinema, Sajjan Singh Rangroot is another feather in his cap as he portrays a soldier riddled with questions about his loyalties and duties as a soldier and his allegiance to the colonizers.
The American accent for some of the British officers is puzzling and the film employs several stock war tropes, but overall it offers deeply moving portrayals of the soldiers and their heroism. The in-depth research of the filmmakers is reflected in key moments where scenes with the little girl and the troops carrying the Guru Granth Sahib (the holy book of the Sikhs) are inspired from extant photographs from the War.
Sajjan Singh Rangroot revisits an important moment in our history and in doing so draws a link between various Sikh heroes who sacrificed themselves, and the ones who continue to serve and fight for the oppressed and the disfranchised in contemporary times.