CAST: Vicky Kaushal, Sanya Malhotra, Fatima Sana Shaikh, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, Neeraj Kabi
DIRECTOR: Meghna Gulzar
“Sam Bahadur,” directed by Meghna Gulzar, arrives with high expectations, following her acclaimed films “Talvar” (2015) and “Raazi” (2018). Starring Vicky Kaushal, known for his roles in “Uri: The Surgical Strike” (2019) and “Sardar Udham” (2021), the film delves into the life of Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, a legendary figure in Indian military history.
While the film sets out to capture the essence of Manekshaw’s larger-than-life persona, it struggles to transcend beyond a linear biographical recount. The narrative, penned by Bhavani Iyer, aims for humor and warmth but often falls short of delivering a deeper insight into Manekshaw’s character. It feels more like a visual adaptation of an annual listicle, highlighting his iconic moustache, witty aphorisms, and interactions with prominent figures like the Prime Minister.
Biopics typically face the challenge of balancing factual accuracy with engaging storytelling, and “Sam Bahadur” unfortunately leans towards a hagiographic representation. This approach misses the opportunity to delve into the complexities and potential conflicts that could have enriched Manekshaw’s portrayal. The film’s portrayal of his Pakistani counterpart, Yahya Khan (played by Mohd Zeeshan Ayyub), interestingly, receives a more nuanced treatment, despite some over-the-top ageing makeup.
Vicky Kaushal’s performance as Manekshaw is a standout, bringing a much-needed dynamism to the film. His portrayal captures Manekshaw’s charm and wit without veering into caricature, a testament to Kaushal’s talent and versatility. Sanya Malhotra, as Manekshaw’s wife Silloo Bode, offers a strong emotional counterbalance, showcasing the personal sacrifices behind Manekshaw’s public victories.
The film’s music, composed by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, disappoints with its lack of melody and subtlety, a surprising downturn given their previous successful collaboration with Gulzar in “Raazi.” The background score and use of archival footage, although aiming to add depth, contribute to the film’s linear and fragmented narrative.
In its individual segments, “Sam Bahadur” shines with well-shot and well-acted scenes, particularly the combat sequences and the portrayal of Manekshaw’s personal life. Cinematographer Jay I Patel’s work on the war scenes is commendable. However, the film’s overall tone feels disjointed, with certain segments like Manekshaw’s interactions with his cook and the romantic subplot failing to integrate smoothly into the larger narrative.
While “Sam Bahadur” presents an engaging series of vignettes from Manekshaw’s life, it falls short in weaving these into a cohesive and deeply insightful story. It’s a visually appealing portrayal of a national hero, but one that doesn’t quite delve into the complexities and nuances that could have made it a more compelling biographical film.