Director: Shoojit Sircar
Producers: Rising Sun Films, Kino Works
Writers: Shubhendu Bhattacharya, Ritesh Shah
Cast: Vicky Kaushal, Shaun Scott, Stephen Hogan, Kirsty Averton
Production Design: Mansi Dhruv Mehta, Dmitriy Malich
Cinematography: Avik Mukhopadhyay
Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video
The film begins with a haunting background score and white text fading in and out on a black screen giving a brief heads up of what is to come. The pace tells you that the director wants you to pay attention and be invested in this picture before the black screen makes way for the visuals which immediately take you to 1930s India and England. It’s an immersive experience created by a sincere filmmaker Shoojit Sircar.
Sardar Udham Singh is best known for assassinating Michael O’Dwyer, the former lieutenant governor of Punjab in India. In the film, the assassination takes place quite early in the narrative. The narrative is non-linear which keeps you thinking about what the film is about and how it is going to round up. Sardar Udham is not your usual biopic of a freedom fighter with massy dramatization. Sircar focuses on ideologies and the idea of freedom that Shaheed Udham Singh and Shaheed Bhagat Singh were talking about. There’s a difference between a terrorist and a revolutionary. The latter can’t be a casteist, classist or racist and violence for him is symbolic.
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The film is starkly slow which if you think of it gives you enough time to marvel at the amount of detailing which has gone into creating not just the time period but also the characters and events. Actor Vicky Kaushal had shared a photo of recreating a moment based on an archived photograph of Udham Singh. That moment on screen is for a fraction of a second but days of preparation and research must have gone to recreate it. You can only imagine the patience and work which must have gone into creating this magnum opus. It would be great if the makers have made a documentary on the making of the film. I bet it would be as worthy as watching the film.
Sardar Udham is in a way a meditation of the ideologies of freedom as it is a masterclass on filmmaking. It’s impossible to overlook one and focus on the other. It is an immersive experience but also brave on so many levels. The film is mostly in English because the interrogation happens in England. This would have not been possible in a mainstream Hindi movie aimed at a theatrical release. Caricatures of Hindi speaking and loudly evil Brits would have taken place of the understated Brits here in Sardar Udham.
The film looks every part international with production design, costume design and cinematography. The background score keeps lingering on even after you have watched the film. The excruciatingly long sequence of Jallianwala Bagh massacre after hours where a teenage Udham is seen taking injured people on a handcart for treatment only shows you how excruciatingly painful – physically and mentally – the incident must have been. Sircar wants you to see every detail of it.
The film’s non-linear narrative might not be the most appealing aspect for an Indian mainstream audience who are not used to watching this type of narratives. Which concerns me that they might not be able to notice let alone appreciate what the makers have achieved here. And this is not to over-intellectualize the film. When I had interviewed Sircar a few days ago and asked him about his vision behind the film, he had said that he would have made Sardar Udham in any case. Glad that he made it the way he made it.