What would you say to the idea of going about your life, carrying the agonizing trauma of the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre in your bosom, in the depths of your very being? Yes, that is precisely what the trailblazing director Shoojit Sircar had in mind when he created Sardhar Udham, his first biopic.
Ask us how we know. Thanks to an IFFI 52 Masterclass on “Creating Cinematic Success and Storytelling of Sardar Udham” by the master director, held today, the fourth day of the 52nd edition of the International Film Festival of India, being held in Goa in a hybrid format, during November 20 – 28, 2021. Film delegates who attended in person as well as online got a precious opportunity to listen to nuggets of wisdom, distilled from the experience of the filmmaker who has made films with a difference.
Sardar Udham is the director’s first biopic and is based on the life of Udham Singh, the freedom fighter from Punjab who assassinated Michael O’Dwyer in London to avenge the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar.
The IFFI delegates were curious to know about the emotional turmoil the crew had underwent while shooting the Jallianwala Bagh sequence. That is when Sircar revealed a fundamental imprint he wanted the film to leave in the psyche of the audience. “I wanted people to take Jallianwala Bagh with them when they finish watching the movie.”
The sequence itself took almost 22 days to complete and was nothing less than a harrowing experience, taking a heavy psychological toll on the cast and crew, says Sircar. “The sequence had an especially strong effect on Vicky Kaushal who plays the protagonist. While shooting the scene, I had an idea in my mind as to how it should be, but I decided to not convey it exactly like that to Vicky.”
Creative are the fruits of constructive confusion, one could say. Sircar should agree. “Vicky was kind of confused and that confusion led him to become organic. As days passed, the crew too became calmer.”
How did the master director bring the Sardar to life? A multi-layered silence has been employed to bring out the reflective disposition of the valiant freedom fighter, says Sircar: “Sardar Udham is an internal person and we tried to portray it that way, we used mostly musical scores. I told the music director Shantanu Moitra that we will create some musical scores which could match this silence.”
The Director explained that the creative use of the musical scores coupled with extended sequences tied together with the invisible strings of silence, enabled the team to manifest the latent sound of that silence, letting the sequence to float effortlessly along with it.
Absolutely no compromises were made while making the film, the idea of which he has been nurturing since a long twenty years, asserts Sircar. “We undertook intense research using all available resources. For the Jallianwallah Bagh sequence, apart from research, we relied heavily on the account of survivors.”
Offering aspiring filmmakers a glimpse into the directorial eye, Sircar said: “While making movies like Sardar Udham, I make a conscious effort to not play to the gallery. When I make a movie, I first think from the perspective of the audience. I ask myself: how would I as a viewer want to see the movie?”
It is not fame or accolades that he chases, said Sircar. “We believe in making movies on ideas and ideologies. People watching them – not fame or prizes – is what is important for us.” The director – producer duo, who share an unbreakable bond since the last 22 years, said in the same chorus.
The director of acclaimed movies like Vicky Donor, Piku and October was asked about the significance of ‘Koi Zinda Hai’, the heart-wrenching iconic dialogue from Sardar Udham. “It is not just a dialogue. It can be deciphered in many ways. It is my question, addressed to the collective conscience of the viewers, in order to shake them to the very core.”
Underlining how important it is to depict history, Sircar said: “It is very important to portray history accurately in order to make sure that we won’t repeat it.”
Moreover, he added that we talk about heroism when we talk about our freedom fighters. “Heroism is about speaking the right thing as opposed to staying silent”. He added that when the team sought to portray the life of Sardar Udham, they wanted to portray the ordinary part as well.