Shoojit Sircar: 'Udham Singh was a globetrotter in the truest sense'
The filmmaker talks about his latest movie, how he was intrigued by the real-life hero Udham Singh, and the challenges of filming the movie in cold weather
Filmmaker Shoojit Sircar's movie Sardar Udham starring Vicky Kaushal in the title role released earlier today. The movie has received rave reviews, and Shoojit has delivered yet another remarkable production. In an interview, a few days prior to the release, the filmmaker spoke about his fascination with the revolutionary Udham Singh, the making of this film and why he chose Vicky to play the role of the freedom fighter. Excerpts:
Even before you thought of making this movie, what drew you to Udham Singh’s character?
We don’t know much about him and this was one of the primary reasons. In today’s time we talk of globetrotters but in that era, during that time, he travelled across the world and was a globetrotter in the truest sense. He made friends and associated with acquaintances in the Ghadar Party who helped him in his revolutionary movements. He travelled from India, came back, and went back again, travelling across different countries. Apart from assassinating Michael O’Dwyer, which he is most well-known for, there was more to his personality and work. These were the things that really intrigued me.
Attention to detail is the key in your films. What kind of preparation went into the making of Sardar Udham?
Recreating an era from scratch needs quite a bit of detailing. I had never done anything like this before. I saw pictures from the British archives, and by various photographers from the era. The film Gandhi (1982) was also a reference point, I remember watching it during my school days, and Richard Attenborough’s film stayed with me for a long time. Also a few other international movies, documentaries about the II World War were helpful in understanding and creating the details of that era. Once, we had decided what we wanted, it was all about sourcing and knowing how to use these aesthetically, the credit goes to Mansi Mehta and Dmitrii Malich for the production design and Veera Kapur for the costumes. Then Avik Mukhopadhyay captured it finely on lens.
What books and papers did you read for the research?
The most important sources were the documents of the Udham Singh case. We also watched a few BBC documentaries. Then we took help from the Jallianwala Bagh Trust and Shaheed Udham Singh Trust, there were also some reports from that era, and survivor stories that we were able to collect and read.
There is a thin line between a documentary and biopic… how do you classify Sardar Udham?
If people think it’s a documentary it’s okay with me, but if they feel like they are watching a feature film, then that’s also fine. But honestly, this movie is a kind of documentation. The way we’ve told the story is different. Nowadays a lot of documentaries are also recreated, so it’s okay to call this a docu-drama or a docu-feature.
For a character like Udham Singh who is not alive and is immortalised because of what he did, was there scope to take creative liberties?
We had to walk on a tight rope, we had to be responsible. We couldn’t go wrong in understanding the revolutionary, the freedom fighter. We had to get into his mind, and understand his ideologies and thinking process, all this had to come through in our story. We couldn’t fall under the jingoistic movies category, yet we had to tell his story honestly.
Vicky Kaushal has evolved as such a versatile actor… but what made you choose him?
Masaan was an important film, he looked very convincing in that. Apart from this, our sensibilities resonated with each other. It was not about just playing the role according to what I said. The actor had to feel it, and understand what he is doing. I felt Vicky could pull this off. Also, he is from Hoshiarpur in Punjab, he comes with a strong Punjabi background, and this helped him understand the story better.
You kept your fans and followers updated with your regular posts on Instagram while shooting in freezing conditions. Any anecdotes from the shoot days?
It was really cold. There were days when the temperature would be minus two degrees when we would start from the hotel. By the time we would reach the location, it would have dropped to minus eight degrees. We would be completely covered in shoes and clothes but unfortunately Vicky couldn’t be dressed in many layers because of the costumes and look. But there would be hot water for him (to immediately dip his feet after the shot), there were also heaters around. But there are scenes in which Vicky is genuinely shivering and that kind of helped in getting his mood right, but it wasn’t easy at all to shoot in that temperature.
What do you want people to takeaway from the movie?
If people can remember the movie the next morning after they’ve seen it, if it stays with them, I will be happy!