Shoojit Sircars Sardar Udham (2021) is a powerful film with deeply moving performances that vividly depict the life of one of the most remarkable revolutionaries during the Indian freedom struggle, Udham Singh, rightly hailed as shaheed-e-azam. But, more importantly, it is also a hidden polemic against the recent historical films like Padmaavat (2018), Kesari (2019), and Tanhaji (2020) that present distorted versions of the past to valorise religious or ethnic identities by pitting them against a virulent construct of the otherised Muslim. Such representations have only fostered the belligerent majoritarianism that has gained momentum over the last decade.
The film not only offers a gut-wrenching representation of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre of 1919 but also vividly foregrounds the reality of colonial violence by documenting the actions of General Reginald Dyer and Lieutenant Governor of Punjab Michael ODwyer along with the violence inflicted on other revolutionaries incarcerated or shot dead by the colonial authorities. Particularly significant is a scene in which Udham Singh witnesses the shooting of Irish rebels by British police officials in London, including the assassination of a very young boy. Such scenes create a sense of typical post-colonial solidarity that underlines the global scale of the violence unleashed by the business of the empire. The dialogues by both Dyer and ODwyer clearly highlight this imperial logic and the repulsive racism and cold brutality that were integral to it. At the same time, through the voice of Udham Singh himself and his friend, the Sikh revolutionary, Bhagat Singh, leader of the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA), the film also lays bare the logic of colonial commercial exploitation through which colonies like India were impoverished to ensure the prosperity of the United Kingdoma process that continues to be reproduced through the contemporary networks of global finance capital. The screenplay and direction emphasise these mechanisms of empire in a manner that strongly undercuts the arguments of certain modern English apologists of Pax Britannica.