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Sardar Udham opens a new, rarely told chapter on the Independence struggle

Indians have seen the Independence movement in cinema from the eyes of Gandhis, Nehrus and Patels. Sardar Udham offers a rare peek into a rebellion led by Bhagat Singh’s HSRA.

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If you are looking for some entertainment, some laughs, little drama and high on josh along with the story of a valiant freedom fighter, then Shoojit Sircar’s Sardar Udham is not for you. Full of grief, sorrow, regret and pain, this Vicky Kaushal-starrer film is not to be missed, least of all because it’s unexpected on many counts.

No, the film doesn’t open with the Jallianwala Bagh episode, something we wait for in the entire movie. Yet when it comes, you don’t want it to happen. It is not just about patriotism but more about freedom; not just about Sardar Udham Singh but a greater and much deserved tribute to Bhagat Singh.

The film is set in the British era with the old English cars, cigars and the meticulously designed sets. The first half hour is about oppression that Indians experienced under British rule. Kaushal’s Sardar Udham Singh represents the suppression and oppression that India faced during the era. While we have seen the Independence struggle in cinema from the eyes of Gandhis, Nehrus and Patels, this rare and perfecting view from the perspective of Bhagat Singh’s Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA) is a standout.

Sardar Udham Singh is the last surviving member of HSRA. Vicky Kaushal’s eyes are filled with respect and love for his friend Bhagat. Amol Parashar, who plays Bhagat Singh, is lively, friendly and a revolutionary. His role is small but he is a legend in a legend’s story.

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Hard to watch

Vicky Kaushal has put in everything, to the extent that you feel perpetual sadness throughout the film, whether it is in scenes of rebellion, investigation, preparation or torture. The scenes of torture are not always easy to watch. The direction is so honest you can hardly remind yourself it is just a movie. Sardar Udham is painful and sometimes traumatising to sit through. This is not your typical Bollywood film with a lot of songs but background music is the inevitable star.

There is relief, but only for a few minutes, when Udham is remembering his long-lost love in the Jallianwala Bagh incident. The only pinch of sweetness revolves around ladoos, which is Udham’s favourite and then we are back to his struggle.

When asked his name by the British officials who torture him for days and months, he shows a tattoo and it hits you hard. It says ’Ram Mohammad Singh Azad’, representing India and its diversity. While his torture reminds us of Bhagat Singh, his shouts of ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ in the courtroom has a lot of meaning.

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A rare addition to Independence drams

We have always believed General Dyer is the biggest and only villain in the Jallianwala Bagh incident of April 1919. But actor Shaun Scott makes you believe that then Punjab governor, Michael O’Dwyer, was even worse. Scott takes us into the minds of the British ruling class, calling it ‘white man’s burden’ to rule India. So why didn’t Udham shoot O’Dwyer when he had the chance to? It’s something to look forward to in the movie.

If you think you know everything about Indian Independence, then Sardar Udham will be a surprise for you – a rebellion story that we rarely hear about.

The film’s highlight is the Jallianwala Bagh incident, a visceral moment that stays with you long after the film has ended. Throughout the movie, you wait for its arrival and when the scene finally comes, you don’t want to see it. Horrifying, full of fear, sorrow and ultimately exhausting, Sircar’s direction is unlike anything you may have seen before. In a heap of dead bodies, there is a pregnant woman looking for her husband; a dying man looking for his dead grandchildren; a 4-year-old child shaking her dead mother; a thirsty woman unable to drink water; and Udham’s lover somewhere in there.

Sardar Udham is a must watch film. This journey of Independence struggle is unique and well directed and acted. It may start a little slow but this Vicky Kaushal-Shoojit Sircar drama is a stunner through and through.

(Edited by Prashant)

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