Recently, a jury selected the Tamil film Koozhangal (Pebbles) as India’s official entry for the 94th Academy Awards. Koozhangal beat movies like Sardar Udham and Sherni and is undoubtedly one of the finer Indian films produced this year.
While Koozhangal deserves to be celebrated for its nomination, a jury member’s response on why Sardar Udham wasn’t selected has left netizens furious. According to reports, a jury member shared that Sardar Udham was disregarded because it shows ‘hatred towards the Britishers’.
Sardar Udham is a little lengthy and harps on the Jallianwala Bagh incident. It is an honest effort to make a lavish film on an unsung hero of the Indian freedom struggle. But in the process, it again projects our hatred towards the British. In this era of globalization, it is not fair to hold on to this hatred.
-Jury member Indraadip Dasgupta to India Today
The reality, of what Sardar Udham shows, could not be further from the truth.
The story of a revolutionary, Sardar Udham is a far cry from the hyper nationalistic mediocrity that Bollywood has been serving in the name of ‘patriotic’ films. More importantly, it’s one of the most accurate and honest depictions of how the British Empire mistreated its colonies.
It does not exaggerate history, it only brings it alive for the modern world. It is not showcasing hatred towards the Britishers, but rather, showcasing in excruciating detail, the sheer disregard for human life, that the British empires actually displayed towards Indians.
It does not ‘harp on’ the Jallianwala Bagh massacre but reminds the audience of how the British Empire committed one of the greatest crimes against humanity – by opening fire on a peaceful crowd.
Such atrocities can’t be forgotten in the name of globalization because an era that does not acknowledge history, is doomed before it even begins.
India’s freedom struggle brought glory to our freedom fighters, but at what cost? That’s the question Sardar Udham answers – without long-winded jingoistic speeches or unnecessary songs on ‘desh bhakti’.
But apart from what the film represents, it’s also filmmaking at its finest. Whether it’s the attention to details on the set and costumes, the cinematography that brings alive the sense of doom and dread that gripped the nation at the time the film is set in, or the storyline that manages to evoke curiosity on a well-versed topic, Sardar Udham checks all the boxes.
However the question here is not of the film’s technical finesse or what it stands for. And neither is anyone questioning the decision to select another film in place of Sardar Udham as India’s official entry for the Oscars.
No, the question here is that why are we so wary of showcasing the bleak, harsh truth of how India was treated under the British Raj? Why are we okay with whitewashing our history, instead of preserving it?
And while an Oscar should not be considered more valuable than our history, there are films that won the award for showcasing history – the real, ugly, honest history.
Like the 1997 Italian drama, Life is Beautiful or the 2019 drama Jojo Rabbit – both of which showcased the horrors of Nazi rule. Or closer to the territory, a biopic like 12 Years A Slave, that exposed the far-reaching effects of slavery and racism.
It’s time we stop living in a colonial hangover and learn from our history – rather than hide, disrespect, or distort it.
All images from Sardar Udham on Amazon Prime Video, unless specified otherwise.