COOKIES

We use cookies on South Asian Today and measure activity across the website, provide content from third parties. Please be aware that your experience may be disrupted until you accept cookies.

Sardar Udham, an ode to revolutionaries of the Punjab

Jallianwalla Bagh Massacre gave rise to the British downfall


There isn't a soul in Punjab who hasn't grown up on the stories of Shaheed Bhagat Singh and Shaheed Udham Singh. Almost every house has a painting; stickers decorate bikes, statues in every other street, and many schools, hospitals, and businesses named after the martyrs. That's how Punjab remembers - the pain, the sorrow and the fearlessness with which it lived under British imperialism for hundreds of years. 


Indian film 'Sardar Udham' starring Vicky Kaushal, was released on Amazon Prime in mid-October. It follows the life of Shaheed Udham Singh, a Punjabi Marxist revolutionary, who assassinated Michael O'Dwyer in England for approving and rationalising atrocities against India during British rule. 'Sardar Udham' is not your typical nationalist drama. Based on true events, it is an ode to revolutionaries of the Punjab.


The film was rejected as India's entry for Academy Awards, with jury member Indraadip Dasgupta saying, "...it again projects our hatred towards the British. In this era of globalization, it is not fair to hold on to this hatred."


But Mr Dasgupta is incorrect and perhaps suffers from a colonial hangover. The British have never apologised to India for their brutal colonisation and still owe reparations to the country. A film about revolutionaries who sacrificed their lives isn't about "hatred" towards the British, but about Punjab's painful history of fighting for freedom.

 

The Punjab province was one of the last regions to come under British rule. Maharaja Ranjit Singh, also known as Sher-e-Punjab (Lion of Punjab), resisted the English over two Anglo-Sikh wars.


Among many difficult times under the English, a particular tragedy that shook Punjabis for generations was the Jallianwalla Bagh Massacre of Amritsar in 1919. Hundreds of peaceful protestors were shot and killed for assembling over a discussion about their fundamental rights and opposing arrests of Indian Independence fighters by General Dyer.


With three gates closed of the meeting point, people were shot until ammunition finished - without warning. Many jumped into the wells, over the walls, but mostly in vain with nowhere to run. Even kids were shot and killed.


Jallianwalla Bagh Massacre sent shockwaves throughout the country and is often marked as the downhill of the British Empire. Revolutionaries like Shaheed Bhagat Singh and Shaheed Udham Singh were deeply affected by it, fueling their desire to fight for India's freedom. It was then Udham Singh had decided to assassinate Michael O'Dwyer for ordering the shooting.


Many historians write about how Bhagat Singh collected blood from the site into a bottle to remind himself of the lost lives.


Udham Singh's and Bhagat Singh's friendship was fundamental for their ideologies of marxism, their shared experiences often making them stronger together. Bhagat Singh was hanged by the British along with Shivaram Rajguru and Sukhdev Thapar at only 23. 


Played by Amol Parashar, Bhagat Singh appears in flashbacks in the film. Always charming, fearless, intelligent, and a believer in freedom for all, his unforgettable photo of sitting in a cell has also been re-done for the film's purpose.

 


'Sardar Udham' takes us through many phases of Shaheed Udham Singh. From his arrest in India, to him keeping a low profile for 21 years under many aliases, Sher Singh, Ude Singh, even Frank Brazil, to finally assassinating Michael O'Dwyer, Lieutenant Governor of Punjab and the central planner of Jallianwalla Bagh at Caxton Hall in London.


When Udham Singh was arrested, he said his name was 'Ram Mohammad Singh Azad', symbolising India's religious unity and anti-colonial sentiment. He went on a hunger strike for 42 days and was forced fed because the British didn't want him to be remembered as martyr, but a criminal. 


He was hanged on 31 July 1940 when he was 40 years old.


The most painful scene in the film is its climax of how Jallianwalla Bagh changed Udham Singh's life. Udham Singh lived in an orphanage in 1919 and witnessed the massacre's aftermath, moved injured bodies from a sea of bodies, often breaking down, shocked at the gravity of the bloodbath that lay in front of him.


When asked why this particular incident moved him so much, he said, "This incident would have gone unnoticed by you. It is just a footnote in your history, written in fine print in some book."