In times of jingoistic narratives where the political leadership loves to take credit of military manoeuvres through spin doctors, here comes a tale of true valour that encapsulates the exploits of India’s most beloved war general, Sam Manekshaw, whose contribution has not been celebrated enough in popular culture.
Known for telling complex tales like Talvar (2015) and Raazi (2019), this time director Meghna Gulzar has mounted a relatively straightforward and adulatory biopic of a military strategist who never seemed to be in two minds and had the guts to speak truth to power.
The film critiques the relationship between the politicians and the military. That there was a time when soldiers meant for combat were assigned construction jobs. That the emotional approach of Jawaharlal Nehru softened the political will in matters of war and peace with shrewd neighbours.
Though Fatima Sana Sheikh’s performance is uneven, the film efficiently captures the chemistry between the feisty but insecure Indira Gandhi and a resolute Sam (Vicky Kaushal). The scene where the former Secretary of State of the United States Henry Kissinger is shown his place by Indira and Sam and the Americans’ propensity to poke into others’ matters is called out makes great viewing. In the week, when the controversial American statesman has passed away, the film comes as a timely reminder of Kissinger’s rare failure in secret diplomacy.
Sam Bahadur (Hindi)
Director: Meghna Gulzar
Cast: Vicky Kaushal, Sanya Malhotra, Zeeshan Ayyub, Neeraj Kabi, Fatima Sana Sheikh
Run-time: 145 minutes
Storyline: The exploits and accomplishments of Sam Manekshaw, the architect of India’s victory in the Bangladesh war
The film also painfully reminds how the colonial power divided the best of gentlemen cadets based on religion. It gives goosebumps to know that there was a time when Yahya Khan (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub) is impressive with and without prosthetics) rode pillion with Sam but years later they locked horns in East Pakistan. The battle scenes are sharp and believable and don’t look cosmetically cooked up. Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy have created a rousing blend of battle cries of different regiments that gives a sense of the vibrant culture of the Indian armed forces.
Meghna doesn’t go into the details of how Sam ensured respect and dignity for Pakistani prisoners of war which won him respect in the neighbourhood and opposition in his own country but she does provide a sense of how the Punjabi-speaking Parsi had to shrug off the tag of anti-national, giving us a sense of how the past was not as inclusive as some want us to believe.
Drawing from Sam’s wit that made its presence felt in the toughest of situations, the writing is laced with smart humour. The best bit is when Sam makes a comment on the idea of discipline by making a junior and- a senior officer salute each other.
Vicky not only assumes the personality of Sam but has imbibed his charming can-do spirit as well. There is hardly any hint of caricature in the tone and tenor. There is a Gulzar line that aptly defines the man: Vardi pe vatan si gaya (he stitched the nation on his uniform). The talented actor, it seems, has seamed the character on his soul. One moment his eyes convey the grit and resolve of the soldier and the other they reflect the spell that the flamboyant man cast with his teasing one-liners. When the screenplay flattens, Vicky does the heavy lifting to keep the mission on course.
We all know Sam was only second-in-command at home and Sanya Malhotra as his lovely, supportive wife Siloo proves equal to Vicky’s charm.
After a point, the screenplay does become a series of snapshots of his long list of accomplishments set to a rousing background score, but Sam Bahadur has enough firepower to keep us invested.
Sam Bahadur is currently running in theatres