Vicky Kaushal starrer and Shoojit Sircar directed Sardar Udham, which is now India’s official entry to Oscar, is a masterpiece that is an authentic and a fitting tribute to Sardar Udham Singh’s martyrdom as well as an authentic portrayal of India and the world during decades of British imperialism. The film is an important lesson about why history needs to be told and retold to the generations.
The film brings out a stirring portrayal of the fateful day in 1919 when General Dyer and his troops mercilessly gunned down silent Indian protestors at Jalianwalla Baugh in Amritsar. It also brings out the cold bloodedness with which imperial officers served in India justifying their brutal behavior in the guise of ‘serving’ the crown. While there have been many films and rightfully so talking about the rise of fascism during the Second World War this film fills the existing vacuum of a film that addresses the brutality and the heartlessness of imperialism threadbare.
Vicky Kaushal essays the role of Sardar Udham beautifully showing the transition of a young Sikh in undivided Punjab to a revolutionary who waited almost for twenty years and stayed in England, did odd jobs before assassinating Michael O'Dwyer, the former lieutenant governor of the Punjab in India, on 13 March 1940. Sardar Udham was deeply impressed and inspired by Bhagat Singh and his revolutionary activities. I may even dare and say that the story of Sardar Udham is less told among revolutionaries due to the all pervading aura of Bhagat Singh’s greatness. Hence, it was even a bigger challenge for the film- maker to capture Sardar Udham’s day and times. The movie in its first half shows the assassination of Michael O’Dwyer at the joint meeting of the East India association and the Central Asian society. Here the retired Governor is shown waxing eloquent about imperialism is necessary for the comeuppance of the non-white colonial population.
Historically, on 13 March 1940, when the event was happening at Caxton Hall in London, Singh concealed a revolver inside a book, which had pages cut in the shape of a revolver. This revolver was purchased by him from a soldier in a pub. He entered the hall and found an open seat. As the meeting concluded, Singh shot O'Dwyer twice as he moved towards the speaking platform. One of these bullets passed through O'Dwyer's heart and right lung, killing him almost instantly. When he was arrested Sardar Udham is shown as calling himself Ram Mohammed Singh Azad standing for the syncretism culture of India and standing up for the secular nature of the Indian freedom movement.
Any linear story telling of such a film would have had this event as a climax however this film cuts from the routine story-telling and shows the assassination event in the very beginning to go deeply in to the prognosis of what led Udham to do what he did. It portrays as to how the post event trauma of Jalianwala Baugh where he saw death naked unfolding in front of his eyes as a young man developed the raw hatred against imperialism in his mind. In a quite underplayed acting Vicky Kaushal has beautifully essayed the passive aggression of Udham on screen. The use of low light, old colonial England setting to depict secret meetings of the Ghadar party and HSRA (Hindustan Socialist Republic Association) transports the viewer into the times when resistance was building against colonialism in England.
The film does full justice to bring Sardar Udham tumultuous past, brave journey and golden words to life. In Udham's own submission to the British court which the film also essays,
‘I am standing before an English jury. I am in an English court. You people go to India and when you come back you are given a prize and put in the House of Commons. We come to England and we are sentenced to death.’
The film will go in history as an important landmark of a grim reminder of the colonial excesses which currently lies buried as mere footnotes in the west’s interpretation of colonial history.'