sarhar udham needs international recognition as a film and history

I have always liked Vicky Kaushal as an actor, but I can’t say I expected to watch one of his performances and think, “This guy needs an Oscar” until I saw his performance in Shoojit Sircar’s Sardar Udham. Dear members of the Academy, please at least nominate this man.

Unfortunately, it is too late for the movie as a whole to go to the Academy Awards next year. An Indian film jury passed on selecting the film as India’s submission this year. I am sure the film they did select, Koozanghal, is amazing. It has been added to my “to be watched list.” The reasoning, however, for not selecting Sardar Udham is interesting. According to one member of the jury their reasoning was, at least partially, that the film “projects hatred toward the British.”

Reader, I come to you as a self-confessed and recovering anglophile to say…so?

There may be many reasons related to the craft of filmmaking that led the jury to believe that Koozanghal is the stronger entry. Sardar Udham is very long and not all the performances stun like Kaushal’s. But to not submit the film because you don’t want to hurt a former global empire’s feelings? An empire that perpetrated, covered up, then excused away not just the massacre depicted in the film but the systematic economic, ecological and human destruction of societies across the Global South? Make them watch this film! Otherwise, it and the atrocity and its center are doomed to continue to be, as the film puts it, a footnote in our history.

What makes this all the worse, is that the film was quite nuanced in its depiction of British people. Much of the film takes place in London, where Udham Singh lived for years prior to (SPOILER ALERT) assassinating O’Dwyer. Even a British cop gets a bit of a full-circle moment. Where the film is unflinching is in its condemnation of British imperialism, a sentiment that is wholly uncontroversial anywhere outside Britain itself.

It is a real shame that Sardar Udham may be denied the full measure of international attention it deserves in order to spare the sentiments of a defunct empire who, yes, really did all those bad things, no matter how many miles of rail they left behind.

I am not entirely sure how “the Academy” works, but perhaps Kaushal at least can get some accolades for this role and, by extension, the real life revolutionary Udham Singh. Far too few people outside India know what happened at Jallianwalla Bagh and films like these should be considered must-see viewing, not uncomfortable, irrelevant, period pieces.

Sardar Udham is available to stream on Amazon Prime.

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