"Sardar Udham" is the realisation of a long-cherished dream for director Shoojit Sircar and he wanted to ensure that the film depicted the story of the "unsung revolutionary" in a truthful and simple manner. Sircar started nurturing the dream to make a film on Sardar Udham Singh while he was still doing theatre in Delhi. It was an idea that struck him during an emotional visit to the Jallianwala Bagh massacre site in the 1990s, he said.
"I know I won’t get a second chance so this is the only film I can make. I had to be very responsible while making this film. There are many research materials that we went through but the most important one that helped me was the written account by Jallianwala Bagh massacre eyewitnesses that they had given to the enquiry commission then (Hunter Commission)," Sircar told PTI in an interview.
"I read those and that gave me a complete window into what exactly happened there and what was happening in India and especially in Punjab, which was boiling with revolutionary movement then," he added.
The director was particularly struck by Sardar Udham Singh's determination though he largely remained an "unsung hero". “He is an unsung hero from our freedom struggle. He travelled from here and to Europe and other countries with a mission and nobody had done this in the 1930s and somebody doing this was fascinating.
"We know about Shahid Bhagat Singh but we don’t know much about Sardar Udham. It is very important for today’s generation to know who Sardar Udham was. Very few people know about him so it is quite unfortunate and sad.”
Sardar Udham Singh assassinated Michael O'Dwyer, Punjab’s Lieutenant Governor in 1940 to avenge the 1919 massacre, led by Brigadier General Reginald Dyer, that killed over a 1,000 people. O'Dwyer had condoned Dyer's actions.
In the film, penned by Ritesh Shah and Shubhendu Bhattacharya, Sircar said he was conscious about not being "loud" in the on-screen representation of Sardar Udham Singh, played by Vicky Kaushal.
“You will have to keep a check and monitor it all the time in every single detail that you do, so that the dialogue or the performance is not that loud, the clothes are not loud, my camera, lensing is light as we are not charging the camera on the face. All these are delicate matters, we don’t go hyper or chest thumping shouldn’t be there," the director said.
Sircar said he always tries to stay rooted in reality in his films and that's what he wanted to achieve in "Sardar Udham" as well.
"He was as real as you and me and everybody else. That’s what I try to do in all my films, to keep it as ordinary as possible. In this film, Udham is as ordinary as any of us... There is a revolutionary in everyone. What he was asking were simple truthful questions, he didn’t say that ‘I will do something’. He didn’t sacrifice just like that."
On his part, producer of the film Ronnie Lahiri said it was essential to narrate a story about India’s freedom struggle, which he believes is “intertwined” with the Black Lives Matter movement.
The Black Lives Matter is a decentralised political and social movement protesting against incidents of police brutality and all racially motivated violence against black people.
“Black Lives Matter comes from the colonial past of the British, Spanish so it is about imperialism. That’s how Blacks were taken as slaves and everyone in our country was made slaves. So somewhere down the line our country participated in Black Lives Matter because we had a similar past,” Lahiri said.
“Today, the young generation of British people are questioning their past, the role played by war time heroes like Sir Winston Churchill. So, this is an important film for the western world also,” he added.
To get the backdrop of the era right, Sircar said he relied on the archive images that were available and saw documentaries on the Second World War and many European films.
The director, known for "Madras Cafe", "Piku" and "October", said as "Sardar Udham" is a feature film he has taken some cinematic liberty with respect to the events that play out on the screen.
“It is a feature and not a documentary so you will have to create the character, it’s graph and emotions. So, all these things are fictional based on the facts that we found out and it was weaved around it.
“As we don’t have much information about him, we had to create a character so that he becomes so fresh that Vicky would turn into Sardar Udham’s image. So, if someone has to imagine, they should imagine Vicky as Sardar Udham.”
The film is set to be released on October 16 on Amazon Prime Video, at a time when theatres have reopened in most parts of the country. Cinema and OTT (over-the-top) platforms can co-exist, said Sircar and Lahiri, who released their previous collaboration "Gulabo Sitabo" on Amazon last year.
Starring Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana, it was one of the first Hindi films to be released on a streamer amid the coronavirus pandemic when cinema halls were shut.
“It was a forced shutdown and one thing that comes out clearly is people want to watch something. Since the halls were shut, they were watching on TV. I am sure once the halls open people will watch there and they have developed the habit of watching in their own space too, so OTT will also thrive,” the director said.
Sircar added, “There is a behaviour pattern that has changed for sure. It will have to co-exist.” Also starring Banita Sandhu and Amol Parashar, “Sardar Udham” is produced by Lahiri and Sheel Kumar.