Sam Bahadur Movie Review: A glorious Vicky Kaushal in a lackluster retelling
Rating:(2.5 / 5)
In one of the earliest scenes in Sam Bahadur, Vicky Kaushal, who plays the titular role, is seen flirting with a woman in a bar, while two of his army colleagues decide to leave the place. Just before they leave, Sam reminds them of the Army's golden rule — No man left behind — and the two army men continue waiting while he continues to flirt. Unlike his friends, the makers of Sam Bahadur don't follow that golden rule, and the film ends up being a one-man show with Vicky doing all the heavy lifting.
Agility, adaption, and presence of mind determine the strength of any individual who is trusted with the responsibility to carry out an army mission. Strangely, these words can also be used to describe an actor's calibre. In Sam Bahadur, Vicky Kaushal plays the legendary Sam Manekshaw, the first Indian Field Marshal, and a decorated veteran who had been at the helm of many of India’s military campaigns, including the Partition, and the 1971 India-Pakistan war. While Vicky flawlessly adapts an agile body language and revels in a delightful characterisation, the film lets down its protagonist by flatlining a narrative that was pregnant with possibilities of hero elevation.
Cast: Vicky Kaushal, Sanya Malhotra, Fatima Sana Shaikh, and others
Director: Meghna Gulzar
Sam Bahadur traces the life of the national hero right from his birth, how he got his name, and his ultimate retirement. In between this is a bland journey that reduces the man’s achievements to one-note scenes and conversations. We know how charming and flirtatious he can be when he calls women, right from a reporter to the Prime Minister (Fatima Sana Shaikh as Indira Gandhi) “sweetie”. We know it is a healthy amount of respect and admiration he has for the opposite gender when the women he speaks with smile in return. But we never understand what made him fall in love with his wife Silloo (Sanya Malhotra) after just a glance at her. Years later, we see them as a lived-in and understanding couple whose silences and simple one-liners showcase the texture of love that prevails between them.
The film takes a rather rushed journey from the 1930s-70s that fails to allow the audience to savour what the war drama/biopic has to offer. The time stamps and increasing gray hairs on Sam’s moustache are the only cues to let us know that the time is passing. And yet, there are plenty of empty strands that the film builds around Sam. Take, for instance, his growing friendship with Yahya Khan, who was also a Major during the British rule. But as the Partition takes place and one party is hurt, Sam Bahadur seldom tries to bring this track on, until the final act where the conclusion isn't very satisfying either. There is a brief appearance of American diplomat Henry Kissinger (what a timing) when the talk on refugees resulting from Partition in India comes up. There is also the warm and respectful camaraderie shared between Sam and Indira Gandhi. However, as much as these feel natural and offer a throwback to a time worth documenting, the film is bogged down by jarring periods of mundanity.
Considering the film is the story of a man who has been part of major milestones that finds itself in Indian history textbooks, Sam Bahadur is unfortunately apathetic to both its protagonist and the audience. Yes, he is an upright military officer, a member of the minority community of Parsis, and a strategic power among the people of politics, and yet... we fail to know the man behind the uniform.
Sam Bahadur would have definitely sounded good on paper. Honestly, it does feel the makers were going for a simplistic approach to tell the story of a man whose uniform is adorned with the highest honours. But somewhere, the film loses its charm and settles for mediocre storytelling for a glorious tale. But nevertheless, Vicky Kaushal powers through a weak narrative with a consistent performance, especially when he dons the uniform. The style is very much on point, but the writers fail to deliver on the substance making Sam Bahadur a mission that is far from successful.