Sam Bahadur follows a number of recent Indian biopics, capitalising on the patriotic narrative that is resonating with large audiences both within India and the South Asian diaspora. This film focuses on the life of Sam Manekshaw, following his story from young army recruit to being a key ally for Indira Gandhi.

Vicky Kaushal plays the titular hero and he puts in an outstanding performance – the script shifts in tone continuously between the realities of war and comedic moments – and he handles this effortlessly. There is a running joke throughout, with the swami commenting on the size of the kitchen every time the family moves after Sam receives a new posting, but there is an underlying message of the impact that army life has on families. This is acutely felt when Sam recounts a war story and his wife Siloo (played brilliantly by Sanya Malhotra) excuses herself to the kitchen as the fear she faces every time Sam goes to position takes its toll.

Commendations also go to Fatima Sana Sheikh for her role as Indira Gandhi and Edward Sonnenblick for his short cameo as Lord Mountbatten. Kalki Koechlin also making a cameo appearance was definitely one of my film highlights, but the best was probably witnessing the audience’s reaction to this quote – “Born in Amritsar, wife from Bombay, I work in Delhi – how much more Indian can I be” and hearing the loudest cheer.

I’m going to be honest, this isn’t a review that is going to be assessing the historical accuracy of the script – although an Indophile, I was taught history through a very British, colonial lense – and at times, I did wonder whether or not there were elements of the narrative which were slightly sugar-coated, as Sam Manekshaw is widely regarded as an Indian war hero. However, I am very glad to see the number of films that have been released within the last five to 10 years that have sought to reclaim the narrative and describe the realities of partition for those who lived through it. The soundtrack, composed by Ketan Sodha and songs by Shankar-Ehsaan-Roy, also convey the patriotic narrative so powerfully – I would suggest this film is another highlight to go into director Meghna Gulzar’s filmography, alongside Talvar and Raazi.

There is an interesting line towards the end of the film, which left me pondering long after the credits rolled, “Soldiers fight the enemy outside the nation but within is down to politicians”. Let’s hope that through biopics like these, we learn the lessons of the past and look to a brighter future.

Reviewed by Kate Pole

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