Sardar Uddham is not a film. It’s a lesson in history. At least to me. This Shoojit Sircar’s film, now streaming on Amazon Prime opens our eyes to many aspects of our history which somehow don’t feature in our history lessons related to India’s freedom struggle. It’s a biopic on Sardar Uddham Singh, a revolutionary who avenged the killing of thousands in what became infamously called as “The Jalianwala Bagh massacre” by assassinating the person responsible for it.
While we all have heard of General Dyer who ordered the killing of unarmed innocents at Jalianwala Bagh, nothing much is known of Sir O’Dwyer, who was the Lieutenant Governor of Punjab under whose instructions General Dyer ordered the firing. This film provides details of this O’Dwyer leading to his assassination at the hands of Uddham Singh in England 20 years after the Jalianwala Bagh killings. The director takes a non-linear story telling route starting with the killing of O’Dwyer and goes back and forth on the life and bringing up of Uddham Singh.
First up, I felt that showing the assassination of O’Dwyer at the Caxton Hall, in England right at the beginning sort of took the punch away from the screen play. The movie then progresses very slowly, trailing the life of Uddham Singh from his young age to his life in England where he lands up just to kill O’Dwyer. The highlight of the film which had to be the portrayal of the Jalianwala Bagh massacre comes later in the second half. The massacre sequence is more than 20 minutes long full with blood, gore and misery. The Director perhaps wanted to strike at the core of our hearts by showing the full aftermath of the massacre hitherto not seen in the past. But to me, it was too much of a stretch and I just wanted the sequence to end.
What worked for me in the film – Vicky Kaushal as Uddham Singh portrays the role of the broody and focussed revolutionary to perfection. From an aspiring lover boy in Masaan to a Commando in Uri and now Sardar Uddham Singh, Kaushal’s transformation on screen has been fantastic. The camerawork in the film is outstanding. The lighting and framing of the scenes particularly in the British India part are extraordinary. One particular helicam shot of the bodies lined up post the massacre stays with you for a long time. Hand in hand with the cinematography is the production design. The British era is brought right before our eyes through the sets, props, costumes and overall look and feel. Background score adds to the poignancy in important sequences.
From Vicky Donor – a romantic comedy to Madras Café – a spy thriller about IPKF operations in Sri Lanka to Piku – a light hearted comedy to Pink – a hard hitting serious film to Gulabo Sitabo – a comedy set in Lucknow to the latest Sardar Uddham – a period film set in British India, there is no other film maker in Bollywood other than Sircar, who can boast of such an accomplished and wide range in their filmography! Sircar’s strength has been always translating an idea and a good script into a great film through his film making. In Sardar Uddham though, he misses a trick.
In spite of a lot of things that work for the film, I still felt that the film failed to engage fully. I think the pace of the film and the non-linear narrative have to do with it. For a film on a revolutionary, the film should have been pacier, I felt.
Yet, do watch the film for throwing light on a history portion that got left out! It’s a slow burn.