Movie Reviews

Sardar Udham (2021): The Legend of a Revolutionary

“Sometimes you have to pick the gun up to put the gun down”, is a popular quote by civil rights activist Malcolm X. India’s fight for independence has seen the rise of several braveheart revolutionaries who had laid down their lives for their motherland. One such prominent revolutionary was Sardar Udham Singh. His crucial role in India’s battle for independence did demand the Bollywood industry to come out with a biographical drama based on his life and contributions. The film is titled “Sardar Udham” and has been directed by Shoojit Sircar. “Sardar Udham” features Vicky Kaushal in the role of Udham Singh. The film was premiered on Amazon Prime Video on October 16, 2021.

Vicky Kaushal as Sardar Udham Singh

“The axe forgets but the tree remembers”. This saying signifies the legend of this great Indian revolutionary. During 1919, a gruesome incident gored the Indian history. Those strains of blood still remain in the hearts of every Indian citizen. It was the “Jallianwala Bagh massacre” incident which occurred in Amritsar during the British rule in India. General Reginald Dyer, on the orders of British Indian Civil Service officer Michael O’Dwyer, initiated an open firing on hundreds of Indian citizens who had gathered to protest at the Jallianwala stadium in Amritsar in the state of Punjab, India. This mass massacre resulted in hundreds of civilian casualties.

Shaun Scott as Michael O’Dwyer in Sardar Udham

It was Sardar Udham Singh who avenged the death of those innocent Indians. He took matters in his hands and assassinated Michael O’Dwyer (played by Shaun Scott) who was responsible for the Jallianwala incident. O’Dwyer had appointed and ordered General Reginald Dyer (played by Andrew Havill) to conduct this horrifying massacre of hundreds innocent Indians. The Indian crowd which had gathered at the Jallianwala stadium for protesting against the British government had absolutely no idea at that time what was coming upon them. Reginald Dyer had sealed all exits of the Jallianwala stadium and ordered his troops to openly fire at the unarmed crowd. The crowd ran for their lives but had no place to hide and hundreds of people were killed which turned the Jallianwala stadium into a gory mess piled up by the corpses of Indian citizens.

As retaliation to this brutal act, Udham Singh shot O’Dwyer dead at a joint meeting of the East India Association and the Central Asian Society on March 12, 1940 in the Caxton Hall in Westminister, London. However, Reginald Dyer was never assassinated.

Andrew Havill as Reginald Dyer in Sardar Udham

Udham Singh was trialed and finally given death sentence by the Britishers for the murder of Michael O’Dwyer. He was executed by hanging on July 31, 1940 at the age of 40 at the Pentonville Prison in Barnsbury, England.

Sardar Udham (2021) Trailer:

The Good:

Reginald Dyer open fires at the Indian crowd which gathered at the Jallianwala Bagh

An Impactful Historical Drama

Sardar Udham is not an action film. It has no essence of a hero with emotional outbursts who gives chest thumping dialogues before saving the day. This pre-independence biographical drama is based on the true life and contributions of Udham Singh and portrays the revolutionary to be silenced and consumed by the grief of the murder of his fellow Indians. His pain and strength can both be witnessed through his silence. Udham Singh was also present at the Jallianwala stadium along with his friends when the public massacre took place but the bullets missed him and he was able to return from the venue alive. He had witnessed a barbaric crime which no common man could ever imagine witnessing where hundreds of bloody corpses of his fellow Indian citizens lay dispersed across the Jallianwala stadium. After that incident, his existence for vengeance became eminent which he finally took after a prolonged silenced wait of 20 years.

Bloody corpses of innocent Indians pile at the Jallianwala stadium as a result of the massacre

If you ask me, the shooting of Michael O’Dwyer might have been considered as a murder by the British society but for every Indian citizen, this heroic act of vengeance was what O’Dwyer himself asked for. After mass murdering hundreds of innocent Indians, did O’Dwyer think he could get away with it? This impactful real incidental drama is bound to make the blood of every Indian citizen boil with rage and hatred towards this ruthless act by the British government during its rule in India. May be those people at the Jallianwala stadium had gathered for a protest against the British government but does that mean they were required to be ruthlessly massacred? In my opinion, the shooting of O’Dwyer by Udham Singh was not only justified but was also an act of ending evil from this world. I must confess, I would have enjoyed a lot more if Udham Singh had shot the other barbarian Reginald Dyer as well but sadly that never happened and Singh was executed by the British officials. All I have to say is that many barbarians like Hitler have met their nasty end. So did Michael O’Dwyer!

Vicky Kaushal: The Rising Star!

Udham Singh on his pursuit for Michael O’Dwyer, the man behind the massacre

To be honest, a star like Vicky Kaushal requires no introduction. The very first time when I saw Kaushal in his lead role in the 2015 Bollywood film titled “Masaan”, I knew from that very day that this guy had the potential to become the next superstar in the industry.  His impactful acting in Sardar Udham does signify his ability to carry out character roles efficiently. He did carry an aura in the movie which made him appear as the real Sardar Udham Singh.

Sardar Udham was packed by a multiracial cast of Indian as well as British actors. British actors Shaun Scott and Andrew Havill, who are well renowned for playing character roles, did immaculately carry out their parts as the two legendary barbarians. Amol Parashar played the role of the great Indian revolutionary Bhagat Singh who was an inspiration for Udham Singh. The female cast in Sardar Udham included Banita Sandhu and Kirsty Averton.

Marvelous Camerawork

The camerawork in Sardar Udham was devised uniquely to match the essence of the pre-independence British India. The cinematographic theme comprised the use of gray color for the sequences which were shot in England and reddish-brown color for those sequences which were shot in India. Such cinematic masterwork did deserve an appreciation from the industry which ultimately led to cinematographer Avik Mukhopadhyay receiving the FOI Online Award for best cinematography. To match up with the camerawork, I must say that the costume design of Udham Singh, the British officials as well as the Indian villagers by Veera Kapur Ee did have the genuine essence of the historical British India.

Udham Singh publicly shoots Michael O’Dwyer

The Bad:

Might Appear Confusing

Shoojit Sircar, who is well known for carving out masterpieces with his direction, introduces us to a hero who I feel doesn’t look at all invincible or heroic. In fact, Udham Singh’s character portrayed in the movie is that of a stoical man who is silenced by grief. He has a shadowy presence and is on a mission to seek vengeance from the authoritarian and oppressive British regime. I believe Udham Singh’s character in the movie did have a significant resemblance to the real life revolutionary. Sircar must have absolutely done his research on Udham Singh before making this movie.

Sardar Udham consumes a screen time of 2 hours 40 minutes. I got pretty much bored watching some intermediate parts of the movie which showed Udahm Singh’s painstaking journey in London. He was shown landing in several odd jobs and unremarkable incidents during his pursuit for O’Dwyer.

Moreover, this immense screenplay by Shubendu Bhattacharya and Ritesh Shah was packed up with scenes constantly moving from Udham Singh’s trial to the incidents of the Jallianwala stadium and O’Dwyer’s assassination. If you are not very familiar with Udham Singh’s story, the screenplay might confuse you. I feel the filmmakers should have considered revising the screenplay and given it a storylike flow so that it could have been much easier for a wider range of audience to understand.

The Verdict:

The real Sardar Udham Singh based on whose life and contributions Sardar Udham was made

Sardar Udham Singh was a lion-hearted and fearless man but his courage never roared. He was the true ticking-time bomb, silent and vengeful, who shot O’Dwyer from point-blank range and never fled from the spot. He surrendered instead. He was the braveheart warrior of the Indian independence movement with the heart and courage of a lion. That’s why he was popularly known as “Sher” Udham Singh which means “Lion” Udham Singh.

The real Michael O’Dwyer who was assassinated by Udham Singh

The essence of Shoojit Sircar’s movies is the depth of their storylines. Though every incident shown in Sardar Udham is real and is what actually happened in India’s history, Sircar with his neat direction does clearly present the emotional arc that led an innocent village boy who had never held a gun in his life to seek vengeance by shooting O’Dwyer publicly. Still, this masterpiece of Sircar was criticized for its “anti-British sentiments”.

Sardar Udham Singh was that freedom fighter who was too occupied in his quest to seek vengeance to make a noise. He chose to remain silent with a flame of hatred and revenge in his heart for 20 long years till the day he gave the British regime a taste of their own medicine. Even if he was executed as a criminal by the Britishers, according to me and according to every Indian citizen who breathes the air of freedom in modern India, he was the true hero of the Indian independence movement, a son whom the Indian motherland truly deserved.

  • Acting - 9.5/10
  • Cinematography/Visual Effects - 9.5/10
  • Plot/Screenplay - 8.5/10
  • Setting/Theme - 9/10
  • Watchability - 9.5/10
  • Rewatchability - 9/10
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