Sardar Udham Hindi Movie Review

Feature Film | Biopic, Drama
Shoojit Sircar's Sardar Udham on Amazon Prime is based on the life of freedom fighter Udham Singh. The film takes way too long to get going but benefits greatly from the authenticity of the makers and the conviction of Vicky Kaushal as Udham.
Oct 17, 2021 By Sreejith Mullappilly

Shoojit Sircar's Sardar Udham is not quite a biopic but is based on a true story. Its protagonist Udham Singh (Vicky Kaushal) was a freedom fighter who played a big part in India's independence movement. In real life, Udham shot Punjab's Lieutenant Governor Michael O'Dwyer to death for the latter's role in the 'Jallianwala Bagh' massacre. It was O'Dwyer who ordered Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer to execute the Indians, who were gathered at Amritsar to protest the Rowlatt Act. It was an inhuman act that the British government has not yet apologized for.

Sircar's film shows the revenge first and traces its way back to the incident that caused Udham to kill O'Dwyer. This means that the first half of the movie is a build-up to the depiction of a significant chapter from India's independence movement. Not a lot is documented or known about Udham Singh, which the film acknowledges in the end credits. Therefore, the makers of the movie do not have much to work with in terms of plot. They could not show Udham as a fiery patriot as Bhagat Singh or show parts of his life as in Rajkumar Santoshi's Bhagat biopic. This leads to a plot-less narrative where the makers mostly stick to facts and use a slow-burner approach that tests our patience.

For a large part, Udham appears as a cold figure, a mysterious man. In the first half, Sircar uses unnecessary scenes to add to the length of the film. For instance, a passage involves Udham aimlessly treading a snowy mountain before canines haul him back from a possible death situation. With this scene, Sircar was perhaps looking to show the effects of witnessing police brutality on this man, but it becomes a bit of a slog. Eventually, the film picks up the pace and builds up to its brilliant depiction of the massacre at Amritsar.

Sardar Udham comes to life in its concluding portion that shows Jallianwala Bagh in brutal detail. To watch the portion is to almost experience the tragedy first-hand. Sircar uses his cinematographer Avik Mukhopadhyay to show every gruesome detail from the event, including the British ammunition piercing through the bodies of the protestors. It is at once hard to watch and moving.

Vicky Kaushal holds the film together with his portrayal of Udham Singh. The actor is convincing throughout as he uses appropriate expressions and emotions for the film's most moving portion. He ages convincingly on screen. Props to Sircar for using a frail Kaushal to show Udham's younger version. This move gives the character a better sense of continuity while allowing us to understand the man behind that gray coat.

We do not understand the true nature of Udham Singh's relationship with Bhagat Singh. Amol Parashar shines in a cameo role as Bhagat Singh but does not have enough scenes with Kaushal's Udham. The same can be said for Banita Sandhu, who is graceful as Udham's lover.

Sircar casts competent actors in the roles of the British characters, most notably Shaun Scott as Michael O'Dwyer. Sircar also avoids some of the missteps that we usually see in films about India's independence. Sardar Udham is one of the rare films on the historical subject that does not show the Brits as characters with only shades of black. Take the Stephen Hogan character, for instance. There is a moment where Udham acknowledges a truth about Hogan's Inspector Swain, creating a delicate relationship between the two that avoids the trappings of commercial film formula.

In the final analysis, whether you would like or dislike the film depends on your level of patience and appetite for this kind of drama. As for me, I do not think the film or myself could fully get over the sluggish hour and a half. Nevertheless, there is a lot to admire even in that portion. With Mukhopadhyay, Sircar brings the details of the pre-independence period to the screen, which takes us back to that unforgettable era. It is authentic in its depiction of history.

Sreejith Mullappilly