Sardar Udham

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quick review:

It’s long. It’s slow. But it’s a necessary watch. Not just for the real-life martyr’s story but also for how a national hero’s story can be told without resorting to jingoism. (Available on Amazon Prime Video)

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Director: Shoojit Sircar
Running time: 165 minutes
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Every time we see an atrocity on-screen while watching Sardar Udham, we have to remind ourselves that squeezing our eyes shut is not an option. We need to know this; it’s not some ancient history. This happened in our world. The freedom we enjoy today is owing to the gruesome fights people like Udham Singh fought. Had they not rebelled, had they not started a revolution, I shudder to think where we might have been. Of course, the film is well-made. It is no mean task to keep you engaged through one of the most long-drawn sequences one can remember in Hindi cinemas.

A character whose cameo in our history textbooks flickered back to memory with the announcement of this film.

This 40-45 minute sequence towards the climax itself is enough to make this film worth your time and effort. It requires a special acumen to keep your audience’s eyes glued to something that seems repetitive. It is also definitely predictable because it is from their history textbooks. This part of the film reminded me of well-made war films. The makers don’t want you to miss the magnitude and solemnity of the massacre. The intention is clear. They emphasise the situation through screen time spent on the butchery, and the choice of cases picked and left out to make the point.

Even in the almost two hours before this climax, the film hints at the direction it is taking. It is as if the gruesome torture scenes are preparing us for the end we should have the strength to stomach. Towards this end, the unsettling non-linear narrative makes sense. But that is an afterthought. While watching Sardar Udham, I was trying to mentally place the current scene in a timeline. At one point, I even felt like picking up a pen and paper to do so.

Would the film have been easier to consume if the story was told linearly? Sure. Would it have made the story any less interesting? Certainly not. But, these decisions seem to have a two-fold impact. The film wanted to give us a break from the cruel scenes without making it an easy watch. Else it would have been two big chunks of brutality while losing the impact of the climax.

At the same time, this back and forth in time didn’t flow smoothly. It felt like I was flipping through a book and randomly stopped at certain pages that caught my eye. It worked some times and got annoying at others. Never, though, did the pace bother me much. It felt like I was watching the makers savouring each sip of their tea, one lip-smacking drop after another.

Thankfully also, even when the film was feeling choppy, the primary performance did not waver. Vicky Kaushal’s staunch resolve in portraying Sardar Udham kept many a misgiving at bay. From an infatuated young adult, overnight, he grew into a helpless but good Samaritan. And the transition was as believable as it could be. The confused revolutionary, the self-assured freedom fighter, the righteous avenger all seem like a natural flow—different shades of the same colour, changing hue ever so subtly and yet remarkably. So strong is his performance that even though the support he gets from the rest of the cast is able, it fades to the background. Of course, that is meant to be; it is his character’s story, after all.

A character whose cameo in our history textbooks flickered back to memory with the announcement of this film. Of course, I speak for myself. At the same time, I am unlikely to be the only one. This faded memory made me wonder why some figures receive more attention than others? Can sacrifices be compared? Sardar Udham’s 20-year dedication to India’s freedom struggle and being hung to death couldn’t be less than anything else we remember more. It wasn’t as if his actions didn’t have an impact. More importantly, how many other such martyrs have receded in our history and memory? How many stories are enough to tell us what we need to learn from the past?

It felt like I was watching the makers savouring each sip of their tea, one lip-smacking drop after another.

For now, though, the Sardar Udham has the spotlight. It was especially heartening to see his philosophy about freedom being given adequately inspiring words. Simple language, straightforward lines that are as applicable today as they were then: the good fight is against the oppressor, irrespective of the reason the oppressor chooses.

Socially and cinematically, Sardar Udham has a lot to say. For one, it is a lesson on doing nationalism right, an example of telling a valiant freedom fighter’s story without milking every jingoistic penny out of it. It keeps the telling grim but doesn’t lose out on what the camera can get out of majestic mountains, and beautiful buildings and their interiors.

Yes, a theatre screening would have been much more rewarding. And yet, I feel a little ashamed as I say that. Because here I am talking about how I could have enjoyed a movie while thousands were murdered just so that the murderer could keep claim to the fear they generated. That shame is the film’s victory.

- meeta, a part of the audience

25 reviewers(?) - 18 yays 7 so-so 0 nays

Warning: clicking on "full review" will take you to an external website that could contain spoilers.

Thumbs up, by Tanul Thakur, The Wire : ...By contextualising Udham and Bhagat Singh’s motives, Sircar accomplishes two main goals: a) making the revolutionaries bigger – and better – than the current discourse of parochial nationalism that often misappropriates them and b) exemplifying the true essence of azaadi. Because when it comes to independence, only two questions matter: Freedom to whom, freedom from whom?... full review

Thumbs up, by Subhash K Jha, Bolly Spice : ...Indeed Frederick Forsyth meets Richard Attenborough in this astute, if over-long cinematic replication of an assassination that shook the world. The film is punctuated by bouts of indefinable pathos and yet Sircar, a master when it comes to temperate storytelling, exercises an incredible restrain over his potentially unwieldy narration that takes its protagonist here, there, and everywhere. Sardar Udham is not just a film but an event.... full review

Thumbs up, by Sameer Salunkhe, cineblitz : ...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.... full review

Thumbs up, by Devesh Sharma, Filmfare : ...We seldom make biopics as good as these. After giving us Udham Singh, maybe Shoojit Sircar should give us Bhagat Singh next. This film deserved a theatrical release and we hope the makers give a thought towards that in near future.... full review

Thumbs up, by Madhuri V, Filmi Beat : ...Sardar Udham steers clear of inserting unnecessary songs in its narrative and that works in its favour. The background score also lends to the sobriety of the film.... full review

Thumbs up, by Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri, Free Press Journal : ...Shoojit Sircar is not interested in providing instant gratification. That is reflected in the film’s pace and length, which can be daunting. But for the patient viewer, the rewards are manifold.... full review

Thumbs up, by Soumya Srivastawa, Hindustan Times : ...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.... full review

Thumbs up, by Vaishali Jain, India TV : ...Sardar Udham is at best gratifying, levitated by the offerings of its cast and the finesse of its production. It brings the story arc of the revolutionary responsibly and with care but it takes too much time to reach there. Be patient watch the film and celebrate the bravery and sacrifice of the revolutionary. It is not the hardest thing that you have to do in your day.... full review

Thumbs up, by R.M. VIJAYAKAR, India West : ...“Sardar Udham” is a must-watch for its spirit and content. The flaws were completely avoidable though because the film, good though it is, would have then emerged as a solid and true cinematic milestone.... full review

Thumbs up, by Umesh Punwani, koimoi : ...All said and done, Shoojit Sircar makes a poignant point by plotting a heroic tale without making it just about the hero, focusing on his ideology of destroying imperialism to attain freedom using his ways. It not just informs you about a tragedy but also gives you a closure that is neither Black nor White... full review

Thumbs up, by Saibal Chatterjee, NDTV : ...But not all the British characters in Sardar Udham are reprehensible creatures, certainly not Scotland Yard's Detective Inspector Swain (Stephen Hogan), who in the process of handling the O'Dwyer assassination case, develops a grudging admiration for the Indian revolutionary and then a full-blown understanding of his motives.... full review

Thumbs up, by Shreya Mukkerjee, NewsBytes : ...Given the majority of the dialogue is in English (British English at that) and the movie is nearly three-hour-long, going OTT with the release is the correct choice. Interestingly, Sircar again casts Banita Sandhu in a voice-less role after October.... full review

Thumbs up, by Nandini Ramnath, : ...Although Sardar Udham isn’t always successful in providing a rounded and complex portrait, Sircar’s sober and thoughtful exploration of the injustice that underpinned the British empire survives his tendency towards excess and bloat. In Bhagat Singh’s passion and Udham’s sacrifice, there are echoes of the sonic youth of the Indian present, who are facing the brunt of O’Dwyer’s declaration that “punishment that creates a fear of punishment is of great practical value”. In the field of bodies in Amritsar and the dank prison in London where Udham counts down to his final days, liberation from tyranny has never seemed sweeter, or more necessary.... full review

Thumbs up, Sify Movies : ...The end of the film, maybe known to us and predictable, but the surge of patriotism and the awe-inspiring feeling for Udham Singh is something Shoojit Sircar manages to arouse in each viewer. The dauntless unremorseful Udham Singh, with Bhagat Singh's photograph in his clenched fist as he lies motionless, becomes an everlasting memory. Overall, with a runtime of 162 minutes, there are moments when you feel the viewing is a bit tedious.... full review

Thumbs up, by Anuj Kumar, The Hindu : ...As Bhagat Singh, Amol Parashar looks the part in close-ups, but unlike Vicky, his effort shows in making the revolutionary look cool and happening. The strong English support cast led by Shaun Scott and Stephen Hogan makes it a wholesome experience.... full review

Thumbs up, by Stutee Ghosh, The Quint : ...These are details that many of us know, have read in our history books and heard from our parents but the slow-burning period drama Sardar Udham is unrelenting in its pursuit to make us realise the enormity of it all. Udham Singh took 21 years to avenge the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. Shoojit Sircar’s latest directorial venture, in its 2 hour 40 mins runtime, breathes thoughtfully, silently taking in the seething rage and pain. It doesn’t let us off easily, instead the understated elegance with which our brave-heart sacrifices his all stays with us long after the film is over.... full review

Thumbs up, by Aishwarya Venugolan, The Week : ...Udham's transformation from a 20-year-old boy who witnesses a merciless massacre, to a man who boldly stands alone in front of hundreds to fight injustice, is powerful. Though controversial, he created his own mark in the history of independence which is glorified by many... full review

Thumbs up, by Renuka Vyavahare, Times of India : ...Sardar Udham’s courage never roared. It whispered. This freedom fighter traversed continents, used aliases and lied low throughout his life. He was too possessed by his singular quest for equality to make a noise. If you are as passionately curious about his quiet existence, this film is for you.... full review

So-So, by Bobby Sing, Bobby Talks : ...Srdar Udham singh deserves to be seen for Vickey Kaushal as the actor puts his heart and soul in to the act coming up with his career best performance deserves a big applause. His efforts also need to be praised the gifted youngsters never makes you feel that the film could hava been much better with Irfan Khan in the lead. If truth to be told then Irfan never missed, and Vickey did complete justice to the character enacting it with conviction.... full review

So-So, by Russel D'Silva, Bollywood Life : ...Sardar Udham will prove decently engaging for proper art-film lovers, but would be quite challenging for commercial or even middle-of-the-road cinema viewers. If you manage to wade through the slipshod editing and snail-like pacing in the first hour, and could hold your patience for its interminable length of about 2 hours and 40 minutes, then Vicky Kaushal's earnest act and Shoojit Sircar's shot-taking and certain directorial decisions are sound enough to hold your interest. Is it enough though to bring forth the story of a largely forgotten freedom fighter? Nope, it isn't, but it's at least enough to reward your patience by the end of it all. I'm going with 3 out of 5 stars.... full review

So-So, by Rahul Desai, Film Companion : ...I suppose its intellectual identity lies in the eyes of the beholder. At some level, I know I’m seeing what I want to see, irrespective of whether the makers intend it. Maybe I’m chasing shadows, looking for reasons to like a film that resists labels. I’m searching for a psychology, a method, even if there isn’t. But perhaps filmmaking is about surprising the audience just as much as stimulating them. Perhaps storytelling is about expecting as much as editing. One inevitably leads to another. All one has to do is imagine. The movie will – and won’t – do the rest.... full review

So-So, by Tushar P. Joshi, india today : ...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.... full review

So-So, by Shubhra Gupta, indian express : ...At one point, we hear a young rebel speak about how they cannot be biased or casteist or communal, and how ‘equality for all’ is the most important thing. If things had been different, if those young rebels had lived long enough to shape India, would their thoughts have made the country a different place? When Udham Singh is repeatedly asked his name, and brutally tortured for his silence, he thrusts out his arm on which is tattooed: Ram Mohammad Singh Azad. Would that composite name be given any credence in today’s India? And is this the country those young rebels gave up their lives for? It bears thinking deeply about.... full review

So-So, by Avinash Lohana, Pinkvilla : ...As far as the performances are concerned, Vicky shines in the latter part of the film, but also seems a bit lost for direction in a few sequences, especially in the first half. Amol Parashar as Bhagat Singh is phenomenal in the few scenes that he has, while Banita Sandhu also does a decent job in her limited sequences.... full review

So-So, by Syed Firdaush Ashraf, Rediff : ...Vicky Kaushal tries his best but 28 minutes into the movie, after Udham Singh shoots O'Dwyer, the script gets so haphazard that you wonder what is going on. You neither get goosebumps nor the adrenaline rush of desh bhakti which a film like Sardar Udham should give every Indian. The only great success of the film is its picturisation and the movie sets.... full review

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1 readers - 1 yays 0 so-so 0 nays

Yay! Thumbs Up, by Raj : Tighter script and editing would me better

This page has additional observations, other than the ones noted in the main review.

Parental Guidance:

  • Violence: Lots and lots. Gruesome torture scenes. The Jalianwala Bagh massacre. A very long scene of the aftermath of the carnage.
  • Language: Clean.
  • Nudity & Sexual content: None.
  • Concept: The story of freedom fighter, Sardar Udham.
  • General Look and Feel: Grim, mostly sepia.

Detailed Ratings (out of 5):

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Sardar Udham - Cast, crew, links

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Running time:
165 minutes

Comments (2)

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Dear Meetu, I too got the same feel - repetitive flashbacks instead of linear, scenes of gory stomach churning violence, slow pace, good performance, less jingoism and long.. How I miss Irfan Khan for whom the movie was originally written

@Raj oh I did not know it was written for Irrfan.

Some bits that might be considered drawbacks though--slow, violent--is what made the film good.

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