|to find out about the first Indian army officer to reach the rank of Field Marshal - although some aspects of the script and performance don't feel convincing
|Vicky Kaushal, Anjan Srivastav, Col Ravi Sharma, Darius Chinoy, Ed Robinson, Edward Sonnenblick, Eklavey Kashyap, Fatima Sana Shaikh, Govind Namdeo, Kalki Koechlin, Keita Arai, Krishnakant Singh Bundela, Mohd Zeeshan Ayyub, Neeraj Kabi, Richard Bhakti Klein, Rohan Verma, Sammy Jonas Hean, Sanya Malhotra
|1st December 2023
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
This biopic follows the ups and downs in the life of Sam Manekshaw, the first Indian Army officer to rise to the rank of Field Marshal.
WHAT’S IT LIKE?
I interviewed Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, a former chief of the Indian army, in 1987 for the BBC. So I was curious to know how he’d been treated in the film on him, Sam Bahadur.
I found myself less than impressed. Although Vicky Kaushal has worked hard to play Manekshaw’s character, I think at times he’s ended up being a caricature of the great man.
Kaushal’s posture only resembles Manekshaw in his old age. The army veteran was straight even at the age of 73 when I met him in 1987. But the actor shows the man with a hunch even when he is fighting in Burma in 1942 in the Second World War.
I agree most video pictures of him are from his later years which Kaushal used as his guide. But he and the director should have known you don’t have hunch as a young man, unless there’s a medical issue.
In my interview I had asked Manekshaw about the temptation to stage a coup, as his former friends and fellow officers in the neighbourhood were doing. He told me that the thought had never come to his mind as political leadership in India looked after the army well and he was clear that the military’s role was to safeguard the country’s borders.
Speaking about India’s former prime minister Indira Gandhi, Manekshaw said she listened to him and provided him everything he needed to prepare for the 1971 war against Pakistan and never interfered with the running of the country’s armed forces.
Coming back to the film, Sam Bahadur, I don’t believe one of the most professional soldiers Sam Manekshaw would have addressed Indira Gandhi as sweetie as his character does in the film.
The filmmakers should have known that she was the most powerful politician in India – you can compare her to the current prime minister Narendra Modi. No one would have dared to address her like that, certainly not the army chief. But many people who knew Manekshaw believed that he did use the term because he had known her long before she became the prime minister and it was his habit to use that term liberally.
I also disagree with the way the filmmaker has portrayed Indira Gandhi as a weaker character than her army chief. Perhaps Fatima Sana Sheikh should have done her own research and argued with the director about the character.
I also have a problem with Vicky Kaushal’s dialogue delivery. He seems to be copying the late Bollywood superstar, Devanand’s style. I didn’t find Manekshaw speaking like the late veteran actor. There’s no harm in having a unique voice delivery, but it should be the actor’s own or of the character he/she is playing.
This doesn’t mean the film is totally away from facts. It does succeed in bringing to life most aspects of the life of India’s first field marshal. Despite my criticism, Vicky Kaushal has been able to show the strength, leadership and human character of the great man.
I also like Sanya Malhotra, who looks impressive as Manekshaw’s wife. I believe the character of the former Pakistani army chief and the military dictator Yahaya Khan has been treated a little more harshly; he’s been shown always having a glass of whisky in his hand.
When I finished my interview with Sam Manekshaw at his cottage in Conoor in Tamilnadu, the army icon came out of his home to see me off, opened the door of my waiting taxi and let me sit in. I had never been treated with so much respect and courtesy by any interviewee before.
The field marshal was a truly humble man and a soldier till the end. It’s a cliche to say this, but I will say it anyway that they don’t make Sam Manekshaws anymore.