Sardar Udham movie review: Vicky Kaushal is bewitching in one of the boldest, most traumatising Hindi films ever made

  • Sardar Udham movie review: Shoojit Sircar proves that slice of life is not the only thing he is great at. Vicky Kaushal is spectacular.
Sardar Udham movie review: Vicky Kaushal in a still from the movie.
Sardar Udham movie review: Vicky Kaushal in a still from the movie.
Published on Oct 16, 2021 12:55 AM IST
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There are undeniable parallels in the stories of director Shoojit Sircar and the subject of his latest film, Sardar Udham. Shoojit burned almost 20 years to make this film, clearly the most passionate of his passion projects. This was the story he wanted to tell when he arrived in Mumbai from Delhi. However, a shortage of funds or support would not let him realise this dream for almost two decades. Sardar Udham Singh also took 20 years to realise his dream—avenging the bloodbath in his home, the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre. Fortunately for us, who are breathing in a free nation or watching this masterpiece of a film, neither was willing to live a compromise. A simple murder won’t do, neither would a less than perfect retelling of it.

Sardar Udham checks all the boxes, especially the biggest ones—intent and execution. At the core of it, the film is simply the story of a hero’s journey for revenge against a villain who destroyed all that he once loved. We have read and watched iterations of it all our lives but rarely is it told with such intensity and nuance. Udham (played by Vicky Kaushal) was a young boy when he witnessed one of the most brutal massacres in world history. It is trauma that leaps through generations, so clearly, enough for him to dedicate his life and death to slaying that villain who caused it. Shoojit, however, makes sure not to take the simple route.

Watch Sardar Udham trailer:

The villainy of Michael O’Dwyer (played by Shaun Scott), the man responsible for it all, is nailed in your head through multiple scenes. Whether it is him delivering speeches about the ‘burden of the white man’ to save India from a return to savagery or defending the ‘necessity’ of murdering thousands while sipping on scotch in his mansion, there are several occasions for you to feel some sparks in your chest of the rage that burned in Udham for years.

While disgust for O’Dwyer keeps piling on, Udham’s act of true heroism is revealed only in the last one hour of the film. And trust me, nothing can prepare you for that final hour. Rarely has there been a Hindi film so unafraid to be bold and unwilling to gently depict the truth of the violence and sheer horror that still simmers in those it once affected. Shoojit is relentless, forcing you to sit through almost 60 minutes of excruciating visuals, as if punishing you for not reminding yourself about the incident often enough. Its effect, however, is not something most viewers would agree on.

With production quality at par with Hollywood wartime movies that often become Oscar darlings, Shoojit leaves no stone unturned to keep you arrested in the world he has created. This is his first period film in almost 15 years but there is not a single edit note I can add at the bottom of any scene for even a mild correction. Did Amol Parashar’s Bhagat Singh sound more like a hopeful GenZ something from JNU rather than a DAV-educated boy from Lahore? Yes. But I am hoping that the tiny tweak was all intentional.

The amount of money pumped into this is evident from the details with which the England of 1933-1940 is recreated. The gloomy London sets, with their double-decker buses, vintage ambulance and police vans, Scotland Yard officers in their high hats, or the women in heels running along control rooms, add to the overall authenticity of the film. And thankfully, no white actor (who make for almost 80% of the film’s cast) ever speaks Hindi without reason.

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However, all of this would have been rendered much less impactful without Vicky Kaushal’s talent. He delivers a performance of a lifetime as Sardar Udham and does it through three stages of his life. He is enigmatic as the spy-type, making his way through the streets of London with murder on his mind. He is also a revolutionary as he belts poetic speeches about freedom. But he is most impressive as the 19-year-old boy from Amritsar, thrown into horrors beyond anyone’s imagination. He is the frolicking boy in love at once but when that dreaded final hour arrives, Vicky leaves you with your nails digging into your own fists. The exhaustion of his body and the desperation on his face cannot leave anyone unaffected.

Sardar Udham, if there was ever any doubt, also proves once again that Shoojit Sircar is in top form and among the most dependable filmmakers in Hindi cinema right now. From slices of lives to biographies on historical heroes, he has been able to give his distinct stamp to any idea he has picked up. Hope the streak continues another 20 years.

Sardar Udham
Director: Shoojit Sircar
Cast: Vicky Kaushal, Amol Parashar, Shaun Scott

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Friday, December 03, 2021