I won’t say that on a writing level, the new Meghna Gulzar film Sam Bahadur is a phenomenal achievement. The movie, written by Meghna along with Shantanu Shrivastava and her Raazi collaborator Bhavani Iyer, has opted for a very linear format to capture the events in Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw’s official life. But towards the middle and in the entire second half of this movie, where Sam is at the peak of his eventful career, the film manages to show us a very exciting version of the title character, thanks to a fabulous Vicky Kaushal who just oozes with confidence.
As everybody knows, the movie is about the late Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw. The film depicts his journey starting from his early days in the British Indian army, where he fought for the British, and later he went on to be a powerful presence in some of the key events in the history of independent India. What we see in the movie are those events and his contribution to them, especially during the tenure of Indira Gandhi.
As I said, the script is not trying to make a dramatic story by using any theatrical element that happened in Manekshaw’s life. We are introduced to him as this young and charming army officer who gets punished for bunking the military camp. Later the independence chapter happens, followed by various military attacks on India by nations like China and Pakistan, where Sam was a part of the Indian operation in some capacity. The good thing I felt about this movie is that it wasn’t really about chest-thumping patriotism or hate towards Pakistan. The focus of the movie was solely on the hero. There are multiple moments in the film where we can see Sam correcting his seniors and people in power when they talk about soldiers in an undermining manner. It is the way they have created a natural charm around this character that makes it an inspiring and elaborate documentation of someone’s life.
The performance of Vicky Kaushal as Sam Manekshaw is the biggest plus of Sam Bahadur. In those scenes I mentioned earlier where Manekshaw stands up for his men or corrects the perceived duty of a soldier, Vicky has this charismatic glow in the way he postures the character and even in how he looks at those people, which is just brilliant to watch. Vicky’s Manekshaw is a man who always has an optimistic look on his face, and even in moments of vulnerability, there are no dramatic shifts in expression. Sanya Malhotra as Silloo was memorable. Fatima Sana Shaikh’s Indira Gandhi is slightly on the weaker side visually, but considering the dynamic the movie wants to show between Sam and Mrs. Gandhi, I would say that weak-ish portrayal works for the film. Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub as Yahya Khan is totally unrecognizable in that second half, where he is practically inside a prosthetic pouch.
Meghna Gulzar makes sure that her movie never really becomes a hate porn. The film has a very character-driven approach. The big events like the Assam conflict in the ’60s and the main highlight, the 1971 war, etc., are mostly depicted through archival footage rather than making them overtly cinematic by placing Sam in every frame. The scene where Manekshaw asks one senior officer who punished a junior for not saluting to return each salute is hilarious and at the same time, establishes him as an empathetic disciplined man. Biopics have this way of whitewashing the problematic sides of its main characters through some filmy bits, and Meghna and her writers have done a smart job in including some of the controversial remarks of Manekshaw in the movie. Jay I Patel’s visuals and color palette help the film to establish the various time periods we see in the movie.
Sam Bahadur definitely has a generic tone to its script. But the performance of Vicky Kaushal as Sam Manekshaw is so brilliant and effortless that even the fairly okay bits in the movie feel so moving. Rather than making it a history class for the audience, the writing stays close to the character and shows us the evolution and journey of a man who dared to call the PM, “sweety.”
The performance of Vicky Kaushal as Sam Manekshaw is so brilliant and effortless that even the fairly okay bits in the movie feel so moving.
Green: Recommended Content
Orange: The In-Between Ones
Red: Not Recommended