“I don’t hate (the British)”
“So, is this just revenge?”
“No. Michael O’ Dwyer represented the evils of the British Imperialistic system in India and I am against that.”
These are the dialogues from Amazon Prime Video’s Sardar Udham set during a conversation between a British interrogator and Udham Singh. The dialogue states how it’s not the British we hate, but the evils of Imperialism they imposed on us.
Shoojit Sircar’s Sardar Udham starring Vicky Kaushal is a great choice for the Oscars. First, it doesn’t sing the usual Bollywood song of nationalism and jingoism, nor does it overemphasise how a typical Indian movie portrays the British as these emotionless white demons. Sardar Udham is more about the emotional, psychological trauma the Jallianwala Bagh massacre has left behind on Udham Singh, and how his anger and resentment translates into an ideology that makes Udham choose the path of revolution. The movie portrays the British as people who are unapologetic about their actions, but not as people devoid of all emotions. It brings to the fore their emphasis and acceptance of the ‘White man’s burden’, which was central to the functioning of British policymakers in India at the time.
The criticism regarding the movie’s run-time, especially in the last few minutes, is highly subjective, but I personally felt that this length was essential to explore the trauma of Udham Singh caused by the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, which this long final stretch achieves. It also tells us the reason why, despite 21 years passing, Udham’s anger was not extinguished.
The movie spoke of historical facts that no amount of globalisation can change. British Imperialism is as evil as Nazism and Fascism, and there should never be a future where we have to treat these evils as if they never existed. And if these evils are not acknowledged, it is an absolute dishonour to the sacrifices of millions who died fighting them.
If a movie about the harsh experience of slavery, 12 Years a Slave, can be awarded several Academy Awards by a jury made up of several privileged White men, I see absolutely no reason why a movie about the harsh experiences of a British colonial subject in India is something the Academy Awards won’t consider.
The Oscars are not about which movie is morally better, it’s a judgment on which film is honest about its content, realistic and better in terms of acting, music and technicality. If a South African makes a movie on Apartheid or if a Jew makes a movie on their horrible experiences of the Holocaust, and if they feel that their movie has the required honesty to make it to the Oscars, they will never shy away from showing the world their work.
In India, we feel that it’s not ‘fair’ to hold on to such ‘hatred’ towards the British, and we also reject any work of art that offends the other side, despite it showing the world our side of the story in the most realistic manner possible. This attitude of ours of trying not to offend and existing in a world of denial is the sole reason why no colonial power, be it the British or the Portuguese, ever formally recognised let alone apologised, for all the atrocities they committed during their rule in India.
When the world around us is getting more progressive, and open to asking questions about the tragic past of humanity, and even nations like Japan, Germany, France, are being forced to apologise for their past actions, India stands out with its apologetic attitude. More aptly put by the character of Michael O’Dwyer in Sardar Udham, “This is one thing I like in Indians, they are always eager to please!”
The author is a student at St. Joseph’s College, Bengaluru