Sardar Udham - Show time with Mitrajit Bhattacharya

Sardar Udham is probably Shoojit Sircar’s best work till date. And his cinematic excellence can be compared with a fine single malt matured in a European sherry cask for 21 years. All good things take time. There is an uncanny resemblance between Udham Singh’s life and Sircar’s creative depiction of Udham Singh’s life. Singh waited patiently for 21 years to assassinate Michael O’Dwyer to avenge the death of hundreds of innocent citizens in Jallianwala Bagh in 1919 and Sircar waited for two decades to muster up courage and funds to make a movie of this scale on a lesser-known chapter from our history books.

I will make four random points in this unusual bullet-point movie review:

1. Sardar Udham takes me back to Dunkirk, Nolan’s 2017 period war film, though set on a completely different piece of history. Dunkirk had eight Oscar nominations and won three (editing, sound design and sound mixing) and missed out on production design and cinematography. Sardar Udham scores very high in all the technical departments particularly production design (Dmitry Malich and Mansi Dhruv Mehta ensured not a single note was out of place), cinematography (the brilliant Avik Mukhopadhyay makes each frame count), background score (Shantanu Moitra’s score blends into the narrative and never out shouts the premise), costume design (Veera Kapur Ee introduces a sartorial style to the men without losing the period aspect of the film), original screenplay (the formatting of the screenplay on alternating between current day London and backstory in Punjab is riveting). And finally, Sircar as the filmmaker goes even beyond his best till date- Madras Cafe in portraying an authentic period drama.

2. Udham Singh’s story needed to be told to a larger audience. His heroics were never documented properly and appeared as disjointed pieces of information. It needs conviction of a good filmmaker to first choose a story as unusual as this, meticulous research to create a cohesive narrative on the lesser-known revolutionary and project the world of 1920s-1940s in a spectacular way. Sardar Udham also will be known as the first film on India’s freedom struggle which is not unnecessarily jingoistic, doesn’t ride on loud dialogues or makes Britishers speak in funny Hindi accents. Thanks for keeping it layered yet real, Shoojit. India should be proud to have finally made a biopic and not a typical hagiography we are used to.

3. This review finally comes to Vicky Kaushal, the soul of the film. The actor by now has an enviable body of work now from Masaan to Raazi to Manmarziyaan to URI: The Surgical Strike and now to Sardar Udham. His continuous work on his craft, choice of his films and surrendering himself to the director’s vision are some reasons why he has reached the top today. In a conversation with me prior to the release of the film, he had mentioned how he immersed himself completely to being Udham Singh with the hope of being guided by Shoojit (da). In Sardar Udham, he has hardly spoken, most of his scenes have no dialogues but his silent frames have spoken louder than any words. His facial expressions are consistent, depicts the pain the character is experiencing and the steely determination and purpose of his action. Irrfan Khan, who was Sircar’s original choice for the lead would have essayed the role with his trademark panache, but currently we can’t think of anyone but Vicky Kaushal as Udham Singh. Am sure, even Irrfan would be delighted with this performance.

4. How can a review look like cheerleading? So, I end with a comment on my only discomfort with the film. The length of the Jallianwala Bagh sequence is just too long and stands out oddly in an otherwise crisply edited film. Just having 3-4 minutes edited from that segment would have made the film tighter without losing any essence of the message.

 

Overall, Sardar Udham is one of the finest feature films made in India in a long time. And if we can create content like this winning an Academy Award is not far away. 

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