Sardar Udham: We Need More Movies About India’s Modern History

Vicky Kaushal starrer, Sardar Udham, is the story of Udham Singh – the man who assassinated Michael O’Dwyer, the former lieutenant governor of Punjab, in 1940 for the role he played in the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. Now, if you don’t know the story of Udham Singh, I don’t blame you, for our history textbooks just mentions him in passing while covering the Jallianwala Bagh massacre.

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A few years ago, I came across a music video by The Ska Vengers titled Frank Brazil. And that’s what piqued my interest in Udham Singh.

Now, don’t get mad at me for giving out spoilers. It is a movie based on historical events! The point of a movie based on historical events is to help you visualise events and give you a deeper insight into the “human story”; the “suspense” is supposed to be non-existent.

Sardar Udham effectively conveys the human story behind the Jallianwala Bagh massacre and the actions of Udham Singh. It has a non-linear storyline and parts of it reminded me of The Trial of the Chicago 7. The makers have taken some creative liberties but do not go overboard like many Indian historical movies.

Sardar Udham: We Need More Movies About India's Modern History
Udham Singh

One thing that I absolutely loved about the movie was that they got the casting right. Vicky Kaushal does an excellent job, but what makes this movie stand out are the foreign actors. Often our historical movies end up with sub-par foreign actors, Kerala Varma Pazhassi Raja for example. And that’s why I feel that Sardar Udham is a complete package.

The only downside to the movie is that it is a slow-burner and certain sequences can be overwhelming for some as the massacre is depicted in macabre detail.

But I urge you to watch it to gain an overall historical understanding of how we came to be “India”.

Of late, jingoism has taken the reigns of our country and our understanding of our history has been tainted. A clear case of this was Saif Ali Khan getting trolled for saying “Don’t Think There Was a Concept of India Till the British Gave it One”. Now, I do not agree with “till the British gave it one” part, but I do think that the people who claim “India” to be 3000 or so years old is equally wrong.

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India the civilisation is old. But India the country is young. Now, this might seem paradoxical but the more you learn about Indian history and human behavioural psychology, the more it makes sense. The subcontinent has been united a couple of times in the past (but remember, those are the exceptions for it has been a jigsaw of nations more than it has been a united entity), and so it makes sense that we have a “shared history and culture”. But to super-impose our present understanding of “Hindu culture” and “Hinduism” on the past is naivety.

So while it is good to study the history of our civilisation, we should not mix it up with the history of our nation. To understand the heritage of the Secular Democratic Republic of India, we should look at our history from the recent past – from the start of colonial rule to the present day.

And the freedom struggle forms the defining episode of this history. India, as we know it now, is built on the foundational principles of the people who fought for independence. When we speak of the “values that India stands for”, we should really focus on the values that the nation that was born in 1947 was built on. Not some “Akhand Bharat” that is as real as “Jannat”.

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That’s why I believe movies like Sardar Udham are important. They give you insight into how we came to be an independent nation and remind us that the people who toiled to build this nation believed that “Ram” “Mohammed” “Singh” were of a whole and not divide parts.

Govindan K
I believe in challenging the status quo; I believe in thinking differently. I think differently because I try to absorb knowledge from anyone - regardless of the industry they’re working in.

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