Vicky Kaushal plays the lead role in Shoojit Sircar’s Sardar Udham. The film is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
It isn’t easy making a biopic or a film inspired by true events. Well, Shoojit Sircar refuses to call Sardar Udham a biopic and it’s obvious why. Sardar Udham’s name might not evoke an immediate memory, as opposed to a Bhagat Singh. And there is very little information about his life and events leading to his martyrdom. Udham wasn’t a mainstream name in the revolutionary fight leading up to Independence, but he was responsible for the one event that changed the course of history as we know it. Sardar Udham assassinated Michael O’Dwyer, who was Punjab’s Lieutenant Governor when the Jallianwala Bagh massacre occurred in Amritsar, on 13 April 1919.
Sardar Udham has Vicky Kaushal play the lead role and take on one of the most complex and challenging roles of his career. The film oscillates between the present and past, giving us flashbacks of what led Udham on his path of vengeance. The Jallianwala Bagh incident serves as a catalyst in Udham’s journey to England where he acts on his instinct and shoots O’Dwyer point-blank. But Shoojit’s movie is not about this stand-alone incident. In fact, the first hour or so of the film introduces us to Udham, his friends, the early influences in his life. There is also a cameo by Amol Parashar who plays Bhagat Singh, perhaps the only other name apart from O’Dwyer that’s etched in our history pages.
Udham’s journey in the pre-Independence days, leading up to his imprisonment, hearing and then death by hanging is all chronicled from a single point of view – his mind. The first hour of the film opens the floodgates to what it must have been like to be so angry, frustrated and obsessed with rage to follow one’s instincts, travel across the sea, use every possible help to seek the ultimate revenge.
Avik Mukhopadhyay’s cinematography has a lasting impression as it captures everything from the claustrophobic cells to the snow-capped landscapes of the former USSR. Camera work is one of the strongest assets of Sardar Udham. Also, technically, this is perhaps Shoojit’s most ambitious film and that reflects in every department be it background score, set design or costume. Much attention is paid to detail in creating the era, Shoojit’s team has taken the effort to also understand body language, the walk, tonality of characters and also cast some amazing talents who play important members in the British force – namely Shaun Scott who plays Michael O’Dwyer and Stephen Hogan as Detective Inspector John Swain. None of the supporting cast feel like extras on a film and everyone has a purpose and a reason to be in the film.
However, even though the film has technical finesse, it has several hiccups in the way it builds its narrative. Not wanting to be jingoistic or resort to chest-thumping, Shoojit underplays his lead character to such an extent that at times his efforts feel underwhelming. He might not be a Bhagat Singh delivering fiery speeches, yet there is something amiss about Udham, especially in the first half as we are introduced to him. The pace and long-drawn scenes (there is one with Vicky walking endlessly through miles of icy fields) do very little to hold your attention.
The big massacre scene, which sends shivers down your spine, is saved for the very end as we come closer to Udham’s unravelling. Vicky looks the part and there is immense mental homework, deep-diving into the mindset of this character that seems to have helped him in some really tough scenes. But, eventually, the film wears you down with its lack of pace and long-drawn scenes that sometimes seem to go nowhere.
Sardar Udham’s run-time does very little to keep you captivated. Especially for the OTT format, pace and run-time are factors that play a very important role in your overall experience.
Sardar Udham deserves a watch for Vicky’s efforts and Shoojit’s vision in creating a canvas that tells the story of one of India’s most underplayed revolutionary heroes.