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Sardar Udham review: Shoojit Sircar’s slow-burner hits hard

Release Date: 16 Oct 2021

Cinestaan Rating

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Keyur Seta

Vicky Kaushal delivers arguably the best performance of his career as the titular revolutionary.

Films on revolutionaries isn’t something novel for Hindi cinema, which has been doing this from the black-and-white era right until modern times. Who can forget as many as five films on the revolutionary Bhagat Singh coming out in a single year, 2002?

But most of these films on freedom fighters who trod the path of violence were clearly in the commercial space, filled with applause-worthy moments designed to pump up the viewers. Shoojit Sircar’s Sardar Udham stands apart from them. This film goes deep into the persona of the protagonist and hits you inside.

It is the opposite of the Raj Babbar-, Gurdas Maan- and Juhi Chawla-starrer Shaheed Uddham Singh: Alias Ram Mohammad Singh Azad (2000), though the subject of both films is the same.

Sardar Udham isn’t the sort of biopic that features the entire life of the protagonist. The story begins with a young and bubbly Udham Singh (Vicky Kaushal) working in a factory in Amritsar. He has no inkling of the turn his life is going to take on 13 April 1919 when hundreds gather at the Jallianwala Bagh to oppose the British government’s Rowlatt Act.

Brigadier General Dyer, with the permission of Punjab's lieutenant governor Sir Michael O’Dwyer (Shaun Scott), orders his troops to open fire on the peaceful protestors at a crammed venue with narrow exits, killing hundreds and injuring several score more. Udham is aghast at the sight. He tries to minimize the damage by helping those who are injured. The incident ignites the revolutionary inside him and he makes it his life’s mission to avenge the deaths.

The film's narrative is nowhere near as simple as the synopsis above. In fact, writers Shubendu Bhattacharya and Ritesh Shah use a reverse narrative. Hence, we are shown Udham Singh killing O’Dwyer in the initial moments and then told his back story followed by the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. Indeed, the protagonist's name first comes up only much later in the film.

Vicky Kaushal in Sardar Udham

This structure has an interesting effect on the viewer who may support Udham Singh's act of killing O’Dwyer at the start but starts to feel much more for him and his cause at the end.

The presentation and impressive production values give the film an international feel from the get-go, especially the visuals of Europe of a bygone era. The camerawork aptly changes as per the mood of the scene. The background score is used intelligently.

Sardar Udham is a slow-burner at two hours 40 minutes and the runtime could certainly have been cut short. While it was important to feature the horrors of the aftermath of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, the portion feels excessive, especially because the incidents become repetitive after a point. This section last almost 30 minutes.

The other flaw is the lack of clarity on how Udham Singh gained entry into a high-profile event in London where O’Dwyer was a special guest. Some detail was needed there.

The use of creative liberties in historical movies isn’t new either and it's evident in Sardar Udham as well. The idea of including the fictitious character of Udham Singh’s love interest Reshma (Banita Sandhu) is questionable. But the filmmaker’s treatment of that subplot and the emotions it generates saves it from becoming a negative.

Like Sircar’s previous movies, this one also scores high marks in performances. No matter how many movies Vicky Kaushal does in the future, his act as Udham Singh will remain one of his best works. The actor is simply outstanding here, especially in the heart-wrenching scenes in the aftermath of the massacre. 

Amol Parashar offers a new take on Bhagat Singh, Udham Singh's hero. Contrary to previous portrayals, Bhagat Singh appears more chilled out here. Banita Sandhu, like in her Hindi debut October (2018) with the same filmmaker, leaves a mark. Shaun Scott is impressive as the ruthless, unrepentant Michael O’Dwyer. 

Sardar Udham is a vastly different patriotic saga about an Indian revolutionary. It ticks all the boxes to impress lovers of unconventional and realistic cinema.

Sardar Udham was premiered on Amazon Prime Video today.


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