Sam Bahadur Review: It’s a well-established fact that Vicky Kaushal is among the most talented actors in contemporary Indian cinema. Time and again, he has showcased brilliance in some of the most complex roles written in Bollywood. In Meghna Gulzar’s “Sam Bahadur,” he portrays the war hero Sam Manekshaw, who was India’s first Field Marshal and played a significant role in the 1962 and 1971 wars against Pakistan. Kaushal transforms himself physically and behaviorally to bring alive the charisma and vigor associated with Manekshaw. However, while Kaushal dedicated himself entirely to making “Sam Bahadur” a serious film, the uninspired writing steals half the film’s charm.
Manekshaw’s life is widely documented on the internet. He was a colorful personality, rising to become one of India’s greatest soldiers through intellect, charm, presence of mind, and a sense of justice. “Sam Bahadur,” penned by Bhavani Iyer, Shantanu Srivastava, and Meghna Gulzar, touches upon several crucial events in Manekshaw’s life that helped shape his persona. It begins with Sam as a Lieutenant in the British Indian Army, showing how he was never one to strictly adhere to rules from a young age.
The film depicts Manekshaw’s decisions to stay in India post-partition and his love for the country. It delves into pivotal moments, from his cadet days to rising in ranks in Lahore, his friendship with General Yahya Khan before the partition, being wrongly implicated for anti-national activities, various transfers, and finally, becoming the Chief of the Army. However, despite the presence of events and narratives, the writing never lifts the story to the prominence that should define Sam Bahadur’s primary backdrop.
What Doesn’t Work
The writing is non-linear, presenting events from Sam Manekshaw’s life almost like bullet points. In this sense, it lacks the thrill of a war film, especially in the first part, resembling a dry and almost uninspiring history lesson. Those interested in history and its nuances might find segments of the film intriguing. It highlights how the makers of modern India came together as a nation, from Nehru to Sardar Patel, V.K. Krishna Menon, and ultimately, Indira Gandhi. It shows Manekshaw evolving into a capable commander and advisor to leaders over the years. Unfortunately, not everyone enjoys reading from a textbook, and thus, making the story captivating is the responsibility of the writers. Regrettably, “Sam Bahadur” often falters despite Kaushal’s exceptional performance stealing the show on screen.
Kaushal is outstanding. He has previously aced biopics – a supportive role in “Sanju” and leaving a lasting impact as the protagonist in “Sardar Udham.” In “Sam Bahadur,” he metamorphoses into the great war hero, delivering a serious performance. However, it seems that’s all he is doing exceptionally well. Fatima Sana Shaikh, portraying former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, shares significant screen space with Kaushal and does well in her role. However, the scenes involving Manekshaw and Gandhi, with their strong intentions and commanding presence, should have been more engaging. Instead, Shaikh’s portrayal seems a bit subdued, failing to fully capture the aura of Mrs. Gandhi.
Sanaya Malhotra, as Manekshaw’s wife, also receives limited screen time, hindering her from leaving a lasting impact. Similarly, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub as Yahya Khan shows immense potential but is unfortunately restrained by limited opportunities.
Celebrating the Indian Army
The film picks up pace in the second half, centered around the 1971 war where India assisted East Pakistan in becoming Bangladesh. Moments where Sam motivates his soldiers on the eastern front, the celebration of various units, and the song that genuinely uplifts the mighty Indian Army are highlights. The use of real-life footage from that time further adds authenticity to the film.
Sam Bahadur is filled with noble intentions. Vicky Kaushal delivers a solemn performance, but the lackluster writing turns the film into a dreary historical narrative, not appealing to everyone’s tastes.