The upcoming biopic, Sardar Udham, soon to stream on Amazon Prime Video from October 16, has generated curiosity amongst its viewers. With over 3 crore views for its trailer within a week’s time, the film has become one of the most-anticipated projects in recent times. Ahead of its release, the team of Sardar Udham – director Shoojit Sircar, actor Vicky Kaushal and producer Ronnie Lahiri, talk about making a relatable biopic without veering into jingoism, the years of research that went into the project and Irrfan, who was originally signed to play the titular character.
Anupama Chopra: Sardar Udham Singh was originally meant to be played by Irrfan. There can’t be a greater compliment to you than to be stepping into his shoes. Those are big shoes. How hard was this to do for you?
Vicky Kaushal: I was utterly grateful to be getting this opportunity. It was extremely gracious of Irrfan sir as well. I had to eradicate the thought that I’m filling some shoes, and yet always knowing deep down in my heart that every shot I give, every take I give, will be a dedication to Irrfan sir. I have my fingers crossed and I really hope that I’m at least 1% of what he could’ve done in the film.
AC: This is a story about patriotism and freedom. But given the current cultural climate, that can very easily veer into jingoism. As an artist and a storyteller, how did you maintain that balance?
Shoojit Sircar: I think like him (Udham Singh) sometimes. Unless you think or become like him or Shaheed Bhagat Singh, it’s difficult to touch your own heart, touch Vicky’s heart or the cinematic art. As an artist, when you are doing something, there is something from within that compels you to do it. Otherwise, you won’t do it. As for us, we’ve kept it a very ordinary and organic storytelling in the cinema that we have tried to create so far, whether it is in Gulabo Sitabo or October. I have tried to keep it the way it is – the way I see it, the way I’ve experienced it, because I’ve seen this around. For this film, I’ve not seen this around, I’ve read it. I’ve not met those people. In all my other films, I have met those people and characters. For this film, I haven’t. That’s why it took a lot of time to sink in how jingoism and patriotism is always a myth. Why can’t it be normal? Why can’t Sardar Udham Singh be a normal person, like you or me? Why can’t a revolutionary be sitting down there, somewhere in one of the colleges? He’s amongst us. I feel that he is somewhere here. I think I need to have that kind of a belief system inside of me as well – that ideology, that kind of thinking – only then will I be able to give some justice to what he has done.
AC: There are two decades of research that have gone into this movie. For how has this film been marinating?
Ronnie Lahiri: Ever since I met him – since 1999. It started off with him telling me, “I want to make a film. Something on Jallianwala.” Then the research began. That’s when we found out more details about Sardar Udham’s role in it. I think it’s good that we’ve made the film now, because 21 years ago, we were 21 years younger. I don’t think we were mature enough to understand [the subject the way we do now] and bring out the film the way it is today. It’s 21 added years of experience in this world, which brings about in the way we are telling the story.
SS: I think that maturity is very important for this kind of film. It cannot be done without being involved and mature enough.
AC: The last 18 months have taught us a lot about processing grief and loss and disappointment. And in the larger scheme of things, movies are very small. But still, Vicky, two of the most dazzling titles in your kitty: Takht and The Immortal Ashwatthama, fell apart. How did you process that? How did you move ahead?
VK: There was a lot of hard work that had gone into both films, on an individual level as well as a team. It was heartbreaking, but at the end, what is happening in the larger context of the world is also heartbreaking. And in that, we’ve lost lives. If you are losing films because of some practical reasons, of course, it is a mood dampener, but you also understand why this is happening. At the end of the day, it made sense. Because there is somebody who is putting in that kind of money to build that film up. Each working day on that film, even in the pre-production stage, costs a lot of money. We’ve finally reached a stage where theatres are reopening, and we still don’t know the amount of time it’ll take for a complete occupancy. You don’t know how much the profit models and the budgeting of films have changed on paper. At the end of the day, it made sense. So you get over that; you take it with a pinch of salt and move ahead.
AC: I read when I was researching this, that after he was arrested, Udham Singh used to call himself in court, Mohd. Azad Singh, because he wanted to show Hindu-Muslim-Sikh unity. I want to talk to you about how a message like that becomes even more relevant because the world seems so fractured and polarized right now. Did that play in your heads when you guys were making it?
SS: Yes, because this was surely a message from him that he was trying to give to us. And we noted that message while reading all his letters, his court cases, about the people he used to meet and his childhood. What you have pointed out is absolutely right. Since then, maybe he was trying to bring that fragmented world together. I think I have explored that in the film in a little more detail.