Sam Bahadur is far from being perfect, and average is not the word one wants to associate with artists so seasoned and ace
Born Cyrus, Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw was a gentleman who lived a life of bravery and never let people around him lose hope. Sam Bahadur traces his life from the time he entered the army to the point he became the Field Marshal just a fortnight before retiring.
Sam Bahadur Review:
Very few filmmakers in India can write a screenplay as detailed and as structured yet thrilling as Meghna Gulzar does. Of course with her co-writers, but there is her mark and you can see it. She breaks the three-act structure and mends it into one that never prepares you for the big moment, but rather tells you to get on a journey. Chhapaak begins bang in the middle of Malti’s life when she has accepted her face, and just like the splash of acid, Gulzar shows you how she looked before the tragedy, hitting you hard with the situation that the woman on the screen is living with.
But when Meghna decides to make a biopic of one of the most charismatic Field Marshals and legendary figures there ever was, does her art of taking her audience on a journey scaling 40 years of his time in the army make sense? Sam Bahadur, the movie, is not just an ode or a tribute to the iconic man, but pretty much more than that and you expect that from a filmmaker who doesn’t trade in the obvious. Meghna’s writing with her Raazi partner Bhavani Iyer and Shantanu Shrivastava tries to capture the human in the figure and shows his untamed days when he could sneak out of the army campus, or oppose his heads without being afraid.
There is enough merit in this script but what turns the movie upside down is the greed to include it all. Like you are going through the index of a book but at double the speed. Meghna with her team rushes into the narrative to tell as much as she can and nothing stays on the screen for long for us to connect or for the film to grow on us in the first half. Like every episode is given vaguely 5 minutes and rushed abruptly to begin the next. This doesn’t let us feel the effect of what has just happened on screen because the event is huge, but the execution isn’t. Sam meets Siloo (his wife), dances to a song, and is married with a kid in the next moment, and has a new posting in the same moment.
Of course, there is a monstrous research that has gone into the movie and it shows in the frames that Meghna in her direction tries to recreate from real life. The movie finds its hook somewhere in the second half when it decides to focus on one subject rather than getting scattered, and that is the creation of Bangladesh. But what fades this part is the constant use of montages and no concrete scenes of war. They are rather replaced by real-life footage and that doesn’t help but makes it look lazy.
What lifts Sam Bahadur a bit is the bravery shown by Meghna and the team in not hiding behind the bush in showing Sam Manekshaw’s habit of calling people ‘Sweety’, he even called then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi sweetie once. Or the dynamic between him and Gandhi and how even Siloo (Sam’s wife) was jealous and angry about PM’s fondness towards Manekshaw.
Vicky Kaushal wears Sam Manekshaw as his second skin and plays the character to perfection. The mannerisms, tonality, the gaze everything is just perfect and there is no room left for complaint. Sanya Malhotra as Siloo is endearing and the humane gaze to this world of war. But the script tells her to take the backseat for the most of it. One moment shines where she is living the trauma of the thought of losing him while he has moved on from the tragedy.
But the movie never lets us be with her after that point. A brilliant example of developing an iconic figure and his better half is the Rocket Boys. I know it’s a long format series, but I mean the treatment of Regina Cassandra’s Mrinalini, Dr. Vikram Sarabhai’s wife. The show, even when she wasn’t as legendary a figure as her husband at that point, lets us see him through her. Sam Bahadur never makes that effort.
Fatima Sana Shaikh while trying her best cannot bring the dynamic aura of Indira Gandhi to her performance and feels like a miscast. Mohd Zeeshan Ayyub is a good performer but his prosthetics bury everything he wants to do and make you question why anyone thought of doing this to his face. Govind Namdev in a scene where he talks about partition as Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel stands out and leaves an impact.
Jay Patel’s cinematography is crisp and amazing. The way he plays with the sunlight is interesting. The Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy album is good but not at par with the previous work they have done with the filmmaker. And my heart aches to say this, the Gulzar Sahab’s touch isn’t visible in the movie barring one moment in the song Itni Si Baat. The touch that made Raazi a movie that was hating neither side. Aae Watan was an anthem that Sehmat sang for India, while the rest did for their home ground Pakistan around her. Chhapaak’s title track’s metaphor was as haunting as the tragedy. That touch goes missing in Sam Bahadur.
Sam Bahadur Verdict:
I am a Meghna Gulzar and Bhavani Iyer fan but Sam Bahadur doesn’t come across as a movie that can fit in their collective filmographies. It’s far from being perfect, and average is not the word one wants to associate with artists so seasoned and ace.