By Nitya Chakraborty
I have always been an admirer of Shoojit Sircar for choosing varying themes for his films, always offering to the viewers something interesting content wise. Sircar showed his directorial talent in choosing an offbeat content in Vicky Donor and in a different manner, he portrayed the evolving relationship between an old man, his daughter and her friend in Piku. His production of Pink was equally socially relevant with that categorical statement by the lawyer’ No means No’, but after seeing his 163 minute film ‘Sardar Udham’ in Amazon streaming platform this week, I am in a position to state that this the best film so far directed by Shoojit.
The 47 year old director who originally thought of the theme 21 years ago during his college days in Delhi, has set a new bench mark in biopic and from now on, the Indian film makers who will be doing so called patriotic films in the coming days, will be far more cautious in dealing with the protagonist’s life and struggles in the context of that historical period. Sardar Udham is a powerful instance of how a strong message on nationalism can be sent to the viewers without being zingoist and without resorting to any hate complex against the foreign rulers.
The credit for this objective presentation of the Udham Singh’s early life in Punjab following Jallianwala Bagh massacre in April 1919 and later years in London from 1933 to March 1940 when he killed the Punjab Governor General of that time Michael O’Dwyer and the time of his death by hanging in July 1940, should go to the script writers Ritesh Shah and Subhendu Bhattacharya who did a wonderful job in depicting the developments in a low key tone while retaining fully the spirit of anger against the British rule and the linking of Udham’s struggle against British imperialism with the global struggle against inequality.
Shoojit’s team had to do lot of research to find out real Udham Singh as not much materials were publicly available about him. He was close to Martyr Bhagat Singh but Bhagat Singh’s life was an open book and everything about him was known and reported in papers and publications. That way Udham’s life and activities in both post 1919 in Punjab as also in London after 1933, were not known. Shoojit’s team had to work hard to find out the details and fit that into the format of the biopic that the director conceived.
It was great of Shoojit that he took the right perspective and put Udham Singh as a person who thought himself as a revolutionary, not a terrorist. Udham, during his London days, interested with the activists of the British Communist Party, went to the Soviet Union for help and discussed with others in Europe about the common struggle of the working people against capitalism and inequality. But all through, Udham’s mind was focused on one core issue – I am not a free man, We have to win freedom first. It was poignat when he told his British communist friend. You are free, but I am not, for me that freedom is most important.
Similarly, the thought process that led Udham to kill Michael Dwyer at a meeting at Caxton Hall in London was also significant. He got many chances to shoot at this British officer earlier while working at his home, but he did not make use that. He wanted to make it clear that he was a revolutionary, not a terrorist and his fight was not against British people but against British imperialism. That’s why Udham could say in the course of his interrogation by the Scotland Yard that he did not hate the British, he had many British friends. Udham never admitted that this was a part of any conspiracy and he was helped by his other ‘terrorist’ friends. He did it alone because it was his duty and he felt it.
The film shows assassination in the first part of the film – at 27th minute, the hanging took place at 150th minute but in between was the scenes of Jallianwala Bagh massacre on April 13, 1919 which was shown in 117th minute. Shoojit and his cameraman Avik Mukhopadhayay did an unbelievable job. The atmosphere with its dim lighting was so grim that dialogue was not needed to send the message. The viewers were just experiencing with horror the magnitude of the crime and what a performance by Vicky Kaushal who was not present in the crowd during massacre but who was carrying the dead and injured in his cart, most of the times solely. It all looked like the scenes in Mahabharata after the 18 day war. I would say that I have seen many many war scenes and death scenes in foreign and Indian films but such intensity was rarely seen. I can only recall some such scenes in Steven Speilberg’s films.
Similar was Udham’s scenes with his love interest in his early years. Normal, nothing special as happens in such low income Sikh families in Punjab. No melodrama. The writers have been on dot in putting the budding revolutionary as a common young man whose life and vision got transformed after witnessing the massacre. The young Udham was searching for ways to vent his anger, that was how he got in touch with Bhagat Singh and became an activist of Hindustan Socialist Republican Party (HSRP). I would have liked if Shoojit would have given some more details of that HSRP period. Many of those activists who survived, joined the Communist Party of India. There could have been a few more scenes in London about Udham’s interactions with the other left wing activists of different countries.
But I am still more than happy with what the film contains. Big thank you, Shoojit, I will like you to go on exploring new areas. Do a film on the great march of the migrant workers in post lock down era from big cities like Delhi and Mumbai to their villages, on foot, in buses, on trucks. That was Indian the biggest journey of the Indian people after partition. I am looking for someone like Shoojit who will portray in celluloid that great saga of the Indian people which tells more than anything the story of inequality in the New India of Narendra Modi with millions without any social security. (IPA Service)