Sardar Udham: The film and a nostalgic idea of anti-colonial resistance-Rida Akhtar Ghumman

Making resistance literature, par excellence for excellent is the spirit supposed, is a complicated phenomenon especially in the “master’s” factory. Film and TV have bought from the book plethoric metaphor to churn it into something visually vivacious. Amazon Prime’s Sardar Udham (2021) is spiritually invigorating and visually vivacious. With the recent images of Virat Kohli with Babar and Rizwan at ICC T20, with a world built on hubris and hate, we can find tangents of intimacy and love between the bordering countries and this pictorial-visual affection is a distant and recurring metaphor of home.

The recourse of nostalgia is pivotal to all ideas of home but the home of Sardar Udham Singh and Bhagat Singh and Eileen and Reshma and Shruti as depicted in the film is a shared home: border-less, amiable and dreamy. The ideology of “Ram Muhammad Singh Azad” as Udham vicariously shows to the Scotland Yard in the film, as his real name, is (was) an ideology of dreams based on the humane spirit of freedom, mutuality, friendship, and joy.
Udham Singh shot and killed General Dwyer in a metaphorical vengeance for Jallianwala Bagh. It’s a fact that there are many films on resistance and there are many pictorial depictions of what unimaginable atrocities were committed on 13th April 1919, however, Sardar Udham is a film unlike any. It’s important to understand that revisiting Jallianwala Bagh is a political act and not a mere remembrance. It s also simultaneously very important to acknowledge that today s politics has moved way ahead, unfortunately, more benefice prone, of Udham and Bhagat’s time but in the film, there are basal emotions of justice & fraternity depicted that are always contingent on any political time.

File Photo:Udham Singh 26 Dec 1899-31 July 1940

Reginald Dyer opened an unhinged fire on the orders of the then Lieutenant Governor of Punjab General O’ Dwyer butchering hundreds and thousands of peaceful protestors who got together at the Jallianwala Bagh near the holy Golden Temple against the 1919 Rowlatt Act by the Crown in India that dismissed legitimate legislation and legal trials of political prisoners – people lost their innocent lives at the Bagh for protesting against animosity and imperialism. Udham Singh during his brief trial in London asserted just the same: British imperial acts of violence in the subcontinent have to end. To date, despite the hundred-plus years of the 1919 incident, no reparations or even a simple apology has been made by the British Crown. Sardar Udham depicts the same, Udham Singh’s unease and restlessness at failing to grasp the savage solace of Dwyer who till the very end miserably failed to understand that imperialism is wrong and murdering people to ensure imperialistic ventures is unjustifiable by any means.
Udham Singh is a believer of Heer. A Heer that’s somehow unsung today. The political implications of Heer are vibrantly depicted in the film where a semi-drunk Udham, wandering on the streets of London, stops at a random place where posters claim an allowance of free speech. Udham wakes up a nearby lying drunk old Britisher and asks him to swear on Heer about this free speech; followed by guffawing at himself for asking about freedom and asking about Heer from a stranger on the other side who cannot know. Udham takes his oath during trial on Heer, a rather dandy move but a move unfathomable for “them” and thus unheard and left at it is in the London court. A revolutionary who shot and killed as protest the deplorable man largely responsible for Jallianwala Bagh, Udham Singh is a follower of Heer but how does one explain the metaphor of Heer to a 21st century materialized world? Heer never smugly cajoled romance, not in the Punjabi oeuvre of spiritually political cadence but now Heer and home have become ideas of dreams. We know that the shared “home” of Bhagat and Udham’s friendship is lost to inevitable oblivion now but shared solidarities of voicing political metaphors against imperialism and today‘s neo-imperialism are very real and somehow the new “home “.

Rida Akhtar Ghumman is a postgraduate research scholar at Punjab University Institute of English Studies and a Lecturer in English with the Punjab Higher Education Department. She can be reached on Twitter and Instagram at @RidaAkhtar_
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