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Saturday, December 2, 2023

Sardar Udham Review: Hard-Hitting, Cinematic Salute to India’s Valiant Revolutionary

My earliest understanding of Shaheed Udham Singh was in Rang De Basanti when Kirron Kher briefly addresses his bravery.

Since then, as a British-Indian, I have always felt curious and empowered to know more about the lesser-talked-about freedom fighter.

For contextual information, Mr Singh was an Indian revolutionary who travelled and stayed in London to assassinating Michael O’Dwyer, the former lieutenant governor of Punjab, India on 13 March 1940.

The assassination was done in revenge for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar in 1919, for which O’Dwyer was responsible.

Even though his character has been featured in cinema, mainstream Bollywood, till 2021, had not thoroughly explored his story.

For that reason, Sardar Udham has always been on my mind since it was announced.

Now, I am not aware of the details in his life journey so to what extent is the film’s historical accuracy correct, especially when it comes to the revolutionary’s love interest (beautifully played by Banita Sandhu), is at the filmmaker’s discretion.

Whenever I watch a Shoojit Sircar film, it feels as though he’s reached his zenith as a filmmaker.

I felt that with his previous works October and Gulabo Sitabo, but with Sardar Udham, his visionary prowess goes notches higher whilst encompassing realism.

From the lush, open cornfields of Punjab to the bustling city streets of London, Sircar channels his innate talent to personify the locations, making them like additional characters.

Pathetic fallacy is evident through the use of snowy and foggy scenes – both blanketing the layers to Udham ji’s character, which is slowly ravelled as the film progresses.

Also, on a side note, kudos to the creative team for choosing such convincing sets and costumes.

In fact, the fog adds to the spine-chilling aspect of the massacre and the impact it has. I also feel tinges of blue is prominently seen throughout the movie, through clothing or screen gradients.

Typically, the colour is associated with a peaceful, tranquil, secure and orderly state of mind.

But the emotions which the protagonist faces is more of patriotism, pain, anger and determination.

Having said that though, Vicky Kaushal as an actor manages to portray the calm and composure side to the character, as well as exuding the valiancy of it. The role feels so real that it actually feels like he lived the character.

Most of the time, we see his acting done by the eyes which themselves express the pain in an effective way. This is by far his most nuanced performance yet and a role superbly depicted.

Speaking of nuanced, Sircar is a director who refrains from tugging at the heart.

During the emotional sequences, it feels like he slightly pulls the heartstrings and then releases them, like a boomerang, after which the feelings slowly settle into the mind.

Eventually, we are left to ponder on what we have just witnessed. Complementing the poignancy of the movie is Shantanu Moitra’s riveting and gradual background score.

Understandably, there are no songs in the movie but the way music is incorporated to convey emotions has a haunting impact.

There are visuals that will forever stick with me, long after the credits have rolled.

The narrative structure is intriguing. It begins during the present day of the story but as it progresses, the movie cross-cuts into flashback scenes, which conveys a lot more about pivotal events leading up to the crux. Kudos goes to Chandrashekhar Prajapati’s swift editing here.

This approach is quite fascinating as it maintains our focus on the hero at hand as well as exhibit his background, mindset and roots.

Often with films, I feel disappointed that characters do not get developed or are not written strongly. But Sircar uses the lengthy 2hours and 45 minutes effectively and extensively in presenting the role.

Moreover, even though the pace is quite slow-burning, the story of our brave freedom fighter keeps us engaged throughout the movie.

Thought-provoking dialogues by Ritesh Shah are relevant to our current times and how even now, we too are fighting the devastation caused by colonial rule.

Plus, the dialogues explaining why Udham ji pulled the trigger is well summarised too, defeating any unnecessary opposition to arise.

Even though cinematically the movie is stunning, I must emphasise that Sardar Udham is very unsettling to watch.

There are times when tears poured out of my eyes with goosebumps and my blood-boiled, especially hearing imperialist characters justifying the Jallianwallah Bagh massacre.

There are scenes of violence and dialogues that shake you from within and ‘awakens’ the conscious.

I have always believed that so films are more than just artistic expressions, many come as a lesson. 

This one teaches us that the bullets of our horrific past still continue to daunt us and our revolutionaries must not be forgotten chapters in history books.

⭐⭐⭐⭐.5 (4.5/5 stars)

Sardar Udham streams on Amazon Prime Video.

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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