Thank God It Is Friday and this weekend marks one of the biggest weekends of the year simply due to the anticipation of the magnanimous film Animal. But I decided to keep an excitement levels alive until the weekend(Saturday) and I decided to watch and review the other Hindi film Sam Bahadur starring Vicky Kaushal. I have always adored Vicky as an actor and he is such a gem of a human too, the latter can be established with the fact that he wasn’t detered by all the noise around Animal with his response being, ‘ Ranbir and I are batting for the same team(Hindi Cinema)’. This in many ways represented Rahul Dravid who was away from the spotlight of Sachin Tendulkar while quietly going about his job. But in my heart I just knew that Sam Bahadur would be a career defining performance by Vicky.
A biopic on India’s first ever Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, I was quite looking forward to watching Sam Bahadur while also curious on how a Parsi protagonist is projected onscreen(being a Parsi myself). Now don’t get me wrong, religion is the last thing on my mind but I am fond of cultures, and since the Parsi culture is closest to home for me, it did make me curious. Additionally, the representation of Parsi characters in Hindi Cinema over the years was nothing short of a caricature(barring a handful), but that has changed since! But to have a Parsi protagonist of the stature of Sam Manekshaw meant that there was an added responsibility to get the culture right along with doing justice to the achievements of the individual. I did feel though that Sam Bahadur was in safe hands with Meghna Gulzar at the helm of it. So then does Sam Bahadur manage to impress, let’s find out.
Story & Screenplay
Sam Bahadur is the biopic of India’s first Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw who was instrumental in leading the forces over many wars. The story here is rousing and inspiring with traces of empathy along the way. Biopic as a genre is probably the toughest to crack given that you need to pick and choose the events to incorporate from the life of an individual who has already achieved a lot in his/her lifetime. And hence the general template of a biopic ia devoid of any surprises while also running the risk of being fragmented. It was seen just a week ago in Napoleon wherein the drama seemed fragmented almost like reading a Wikipedia page based on the life of the individual. The same fragmentation could have been an issue here too if not for the perfect pacing of the film that not only rescues the drama, but also makes it a brilliant watch. The screenplay standing at 150 minutes does make for a compelling watch that is rousing and inspiring in so many ways. The drama needs to be looked from the gaze of a documentation to truly understand and savour the beats of the narrative. And if you do so then you will be rewarded!
Perhaps the weakest 15 minute period of this biopic is at the very start wherein I did feel that the writing was dodgy and fragmented. The entire episode of suddenly introducing the protagonist(firstly as a child to later as a foreshadow in the drama) to giving a little glimpse of his rebellious nature in his early days, the drama seemed to be wobbly in many ways with little to no coherence between scenes. But the drama gathers momentum with the introduction of a love angle while switching gears to the war zone. I suddenly felt invested in the drama with the writers hitting the right kind of emotions in the first war zone of 1942. In between, the Parsi culture is well represented either through the talks of famous Parsi dishes between Sam and his cadet, or the attire worn by the Parsi characters. The aesthetics of a Parsi household(barring the language) was quite good!
The proceedings are interesting while quickly touching upon the crucial instances in the life of Sam Manekshaw against the backdrop of the politics in play. This includes a heartwarming scene featuring the army assembling together for the last time before the partition takes place which would divide not only the nation but also the army into two fragments, with a bitter history to follow in the hindsight. Yet, the loyalties of the protagonist are firmly established while also lacing the proceedings with a lot of empathy. You do get a brief look at his personal life featuring Sam’s wife and children while his mind is always bent towards the nation while wishing to serve in the warfront.
Things are set up nicely with the introduction of Indira Gandhi with whom Sam Manekshaw had had a bittersweet equation, something that is well highlighted. But the writing scores with establishing the character traits of the protagonist who is righteous and straight-forward while always treating everyone around him equally, be it the PM or the lowest cadet in his regiment. The politics though takes center-stage in the second hour with the character reacting to the situation. This includes the Dacca massacre that was also depicted in the recently released film Pippa(which also had Sam Maneckshaw as a character).
Now, there might be some criticism around the final act wherein the planning and plotting of the 1971 war lead by Sam Manekshaw was used only as a passing reference. But my counter would be that the film was never only about the 1971 war and hence, it didn’t need to go into any details. What mattered was the focus on Sam and the leadership qualities that he showcases while putting his country first over his family. Yes, a 2.5 hour film may never do justice to the contributions of Sam Manekshaw towards the nation, but there was an endearing quality in the screenplay that had me hooked right throughout.
Dialogues, Music & Direction
The dialogues are powerful and some of the most rousing lines are showcased with Sam addressing his team on more than one occasion. The lines are conversational as well but they convey the politics of the situation while also highlighting the traits of the individual concerned, extremely well. My only gripe was that two Parsi characters do not talk in Hindi, especially not in the 60s and 70s for sure. The music is good and blends well with the drama. A special mention of the lyrics that did celebrate the different army regiments over a rousing song. The BGM is equally rousing and it does subtly give you a high at many instances in the drama.
The cinematography has to be an aspect worth praising. There are some stunning frames that capture the vibe of the drama perfectly well. At the halfway mark, you see a wide frame featuring Indira Gandhi and Sam Manekshaw meeting for the first time, one at each end of the frame with a lot of gap in the middle. Thiscis representative of their bittersweet relationship that was to follow. In another instance, an aerial shot of a few victims being corned before being shot down at the Dacca University Massacre was expertly captured. The editing is pretty good barring the first 15 minutes that seemed fragmented. The editor deserves a round of applause for never allowing the viewers to realise that the drama was fragmented as it shifted from one event to another.
Director Meghna Gulzar has done a wonderful job here. Much like Raazi, she doesn’t lace the drama with chest thumping jingoism. Instead, you see a sense of empathy and grace in the proceedings wherein the drama never goes overboard. She does a brilliant job in establishing the character traits of the protagonist perfectly. Overall, the direction was really good here.
The performances are pretty good here lead by a career defining role by Vicky Kaushal. Upen Chauhan as Tikka Singh and Rohan Verma as Captain Attiqur Rehman have their moments to shine. The veterans Govind Namdeo as Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel and Neeraj Kabi as Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru are dependable and perform their acts really well. Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub as Yahya Khan puts all his theatre experience to play by adding a baritone voice to his character early on. At a latter stage, he does a decently good job considering that it isn’t easy to perforn with loads of prosthetics on your face. Fatima Sana Shaikh as Indira Gandhi gets the demeanor of her character right with respect to the sharp glances. She has a good screen presence and she makes good use of it in a nice little act. Sanya Malhotra as Silloo is wonderfully understated and she lends a silent support in a beautifully performed character.
But it won’t be wrong to say that the show belongs to Vicky Kaushal in a career defining performance as Sam Manekshaw. This performance of his is right up there with his act in Sardar Udham. He gets his demeanor and body language absolutely spot on(that stoop won me over) along with his accent that fell so beautifully in place. Anything more that I say cannot justify the towering acting masterclass that Vicky has delivered, and I hope this performance gets its due over the course of time. There is a sense of earnestness and sincerity in Vicky and I firmly believe that good things happen to the good guys, but he has honestly out done himself here and how! An extra 1 star entirely for Vicky Kaushal, remember the name!
Sam Bahadur is a rousing biopic of a towering personality, boasting of powerful performances that makes for a wonderful biopic. In the Animal wave, do not forget to watch this little gem as well! Available in a theatre near you and Highly Recommended.