Vicky Kaushal gives a noble performance as Indian revolutionary Udham Singh in Shoojit Sircar’s Sadar Udham. The epic drama chronicles the historic figure’s life, spanning a 20-year period that covers his youth, living under British colonialism in India, his pursuit to achieve justice for an atrocity, his fight for his country’s freedom, and his subsequent trial and incarceration. Writers Shubhendu Bhattacharya and Ritesh Shah pack a lot into the script to weave a rich portrait of the titular character. However, the pacing is tediously drawn-out and a chronological disaster, which makes the almost three-hour runtime feel even longer than it already is.
It opens with Singh assassinating the British officer responsible for a horrific massacre, gunning him down in cold blood in a crowded venue. He’s swiftly arrested and imprisoned, and from here the film deploys heavy use of flashbacks to fill in the gaps of what led to him pulling the trigger. As the various chunks of the activist’s life come together, Sicar creates an intricate and complex account of his life. Kaushal takes the role in his stride, carrying the entire production on his own. However, the timeline isn’t easy to follow. Jumps in the chronology can happen so spontaneously that it can take a while to realise that they have happened. It’s only through repeated visits to these periods in Singh’s life that viewers can work out where the scenes fit.
Despite a messy execution, the filmmaker uses the extended timeframe to make a broader commentary on Britain’s history. As time ticks on, references to other wars and rebellions (particularly regarding the IRA) pepper the background of Singh’s own fight – all of which draws attention to Britain’s colonial past, placing it under scrutiny to reveal its ugly nature. A common trope in media is to root for the rebels fighting for their freedom, so why should Singh’s story be any different? If he was Luke Skywalker, and the British Empire were the Galactic Empire.
The massacre scene is appropriately harrowing and difficult to watch. However, this sequence’s tonal shift to gore and violence is so stark against everything that came before that it verges on melodrama. But, like the preceding scenes, it, too, is protracted: the point is made several times, and it starts to lose its impact. In short, Sadar Udham is an ambitious but drastically bloated affair.
Sardar Udham is released on Amazon Prime Video on 16th October 2021.
Watch the trailer for Sardar Udham here: