Review: ‘Sam Bahadur,’ starring Vicky Kaushal, Fatima Sana Shaikh and Sanya Malhotra

December 27, 2023

by Carla Hay

Vicky Kaushal in “Sam Bahadur” (Photo courtesy of RSVP Movies)

“Sam Bahadur”

Directed by Meghna Gulzar

Hindi with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in various countries in Asia, from 1933 to 1973, the dramatic film “Sam Bahadur” (based on real events) features a predominantly Asian cast of characters (with some white people) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Sam Manekshaw rises through the ranks of the Indian Army while being involved in several political conflicts and international wars.

Culture Audience: “Sam Bahadur” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and are interested in seeing a biopic about a famous military leader, but the movie’s storytelling approach is stiff and overly sterile.

Fatima Sana Shaikh in “Sam Bahadur” (Photo courtesy of RSVP Movies)

“Sam Bahadur” is nothing but a “checklist” biopic that ultimately does a disservice to Sam Manekshaw. By making him look too good to be true, this erratically edited movie robs him of his humanity and depicts him as an unrealistically perfect hero. His relationships that were deep and meaningful in real life are rushed through in the movie and ultimately portrayed in a shallow manner.

Directed by Meghna Gulzar (who co-wrote the lackluster “Sam Bahadur” screenplay with Shantanu Shrivastava), “Sam Bahadur” (which means “Sam the Brave” in Hindi) takes place from 1933 to 1973, the years that Manekshaw was in the Indian Army. Born in 1914, in Amritsar, India, he began as one of the first cadets in the Indian Military Academy and rose through the ranks and eventually reached the highest level of the Indian Army, by being promoted to field marshal. He was the first person in India to achieve this military ranking of field marshal.

Vicky Kaushal gives a fairly competent performance as Manekshaw, but he’s not entirely convincing as an elder Manekshaw. (For the purposes of this review, the real Sam Manekshaw will be referred to as Manekshaw, while the character of Sam Manekshaw in the movie will be referred to as Sam.) Except for an early scene where cadet Sam is punished for being late after partying the night before at a pub with some friends , Sam is portrayed in the movie as someone who doesn’t do anything wrong and doesn’t make mistakes. It’s all very hokey and not believable.

The movie shows various political conflicts that Sam was involved with in his military career, such as India’s participation in certain wars. They include fighting in Burma during World War II (while India was under British rule); battling with Pakistan over control of Kashmir; and being in conflict against China in the Sino-Indian War. The combat scenes are very generic. And so are the conversations and performances in the movie.

Sam also experiences clashes with Indian government colleagues who view him as a threat to the power that they want. The movie gives half-hearted portrayals of the lingering effects of British colonialism in India. The story’s main throughline of showing India before and after British colonialism is Sam’s interaction through the years with David Cowan (played by Paul O’Neill), a British military official who knew Sam from when Sam was a somewhat rebellious cadet at Indian Military Academy to after Sam became a high-ranking military official. (India became independent from the United Kingdom in 1947.)

“Sam Badahur” has a very superficial depiction of Sam being severely wounded in Burma. After getting shot in the chest by a Japanese soldier, Sam is taken to an emergency medical tent, where a doctor asks him what happened. Sam jokes, “I got kicked by a mule.” His painful and difficult recovery from his near-fatal wounds is glossed over in the film. The movie makes it look like his recovery is quick and he had no real long-term effects from this trauma, which wasn’t the case in real life.

Sam’s courtship of his wife Silloo (played by Sanya Malhotra) is also rushed through the movie. Sam tells Silloo soon after meeting her that he’s going to marry her. A few minutes later in the movie, they’re married, with no real context of how their relationship developed.

Sam and Silloo become parents to two daughters, but hardly anything is shown in the movie about how these spouses are as parents. There a few scenes where Sam tells Silloo that he’s been ordered to be stationed at a military base where families aren’t allowed. However, the movie barely explores the strain that these separations put on their marriage.

Instead, “Sam Bahadur” is mostly a series of scenes where Sam is either on a battleground, a military base or in a conference room, with the occasional home visit. Various government officials and other colleagues are shuffled through Sam’s life, including Indian prime ministers Jawaharlal Nehru (played by Neeraj Kabi) and Indira Gandhi (played by Fatima Sana Shaikh), who makes Sam her trusted ally. Sam is depicted as someone who always emerges triumphant whenever he encounters a jealous rival. The movie erases any personality flaws that he might have had in real life.

With a total running time of 148 minutes, “Sam Bahadur” certainly had the time to be a more insightful look into who the real Manekshaw was in his career and in his personal life. However, the movie’s uneven editing (some scenes are too short, while other scenes meander for too long) brings down the quality of “Sam Bahadur,” which is filled with uninteresting dialogue and bland depictions of fascinating, history-making people. Ultimately, “Sam Bahadur” gives Manekshaw and the people around him the “encyclopedia” treatment instead of the substantially engaging story that they deserved.

RSVP Movies released “Sam Bahadur” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on December 1, 2023.

Review: ‘HIT: The First Case’ (2022), starring Rajkummar Rao, Sanya Malhotra and Akhil Iyer

December 17, 2022

by Carla Hay

Rajkummar Rao and Akhil Iyer in “HIT: The First Case” (Photo courtesy of T-Series Films)

“HIT: The First Case” (2022)

Directed by Sailesh Kolanu

Hindi with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed area of India, the Hindi-language action film “HIT: The First Case” (a remake of the Telugu-language movie of the same name) features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A 32-year-old police detective, who has post-traumatic stress disorder, investigates the disappearances of two young women, one of whom is his girlfriend/colleague. 

Culture Audience: “HIT: The First Case” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of suspenseful and action-filled mystery thrillers that have unexpected plot twists.

Rajkummar Rao and Sanya Malhotra in “HIT: The First Case” (Photo courtesy of T-Series Films)

“HIT: The First Case” sometimes gets distracted by sappy romantic scenes shown in slow-motion, but it’s an otherwise thrilling, action-packed mystery that will keep viewers guessing. The intriguing plot twists make up for some of the movie’s flaws. This movie isn’t going to win any major awards, but it should satisfy people who like stories about realistically imperfect detectives and challenging crime cases. “HIT: The First Case” handles the issue of post-traumatic stress disorder in a way that’s sometimes overly dramatic but it’s never disrespectful or pitying.

Written and directed by Sailesh Kolanu, “HIT: The First Case” is a Hindi-language remake of Kolanu’s 2020 Telugu-language movie of the same name. The remake stays faithful to the same story, but the Hindi-language version of “Hit: The First Case” has action that’s a little more intense and brutal than the Telugu-language version. The action is staged in a fairly standard way. What makes the movie worth watching is getting the bottom of the mystery, which has some intriguing twists and turns.

In “HIT: The First Case,” Vikram “Vicky” Jaisingh (played by Rajkummar Rao) is a 32-year-old police inspector in unnamed part of India. Vikram works in the department called Homicide Intervention Team (HIT), where he has earned a reputation as an excellent detective who has an ability to solve cases quicker than the average investigator. However, Vikram has recently been diagnosed with having post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), stemming from an incident where he couldn’t prevent a woman from being tortured.

The movie opens with Vikram having a nightmare about this incident. He is in therapy for his PTSD, but he doesn’t follow his psychiatrist’s advice to take medication for PTSD. His psychiatrist also says that because Vikram is having panic attacks, Vikra should quit his job. He also chooses not to heed this advice.

Vikram has a kind and loving girlfriend named Dr. Neha Mehta (played by Sanya Malhotra), who just happens to be a work colleague. Neha is a scientist who works in forensics lab that the police department uses. Vikram’s closest friend at work is his cop partner Rohit Shukla (played by Akhil Iyer), who is happily married to his wife Sapna (played by Nuveksha). Rohit, who is about the same age as Vikram, has no kids with Sapna.

Three other members of HIT are prominent parts of the story: Ajit Singh Shekhawat (played by Dalip Tahil) is the no-nonsense supervisor of Vikram and Rohit. Ibrahim Sheikh (played by Milind Gunaji) is a sub inspector whose quick temper sometimes gets him in trouble. Akshay (played by Jatin Goswami) is an inspector who is a jealous rival of Vikram’s and who seizes any opportunity to try to look better than Vikram.

Vikram and Neha have hit a rough patch in their relationship. Neha believes that because of his PTSD, Vikram should quit police work. She even goes as far to say that she will go to the police department and declare him unfit for his job. They bitterly argue about it. Vikram shouts during their argument: “You’re trying to blackmail me!” Rohit and Sapna are in the room during this argument, and Vikram get angry at them too because he thinks these two spouses are siding with Neha.

Vikram will soon be consumed by an investigation that tests everything he is as a police detective and as a human being. An 18-year-old woman named Preeti Mathur (played by Rose Khan) has been reported missing by her worried parents Mohan Mathur (played by Hemraj Tiwari) and Laxmi Mathur (played by Shikha Pareek), who are adamant that Preeti did not disappear voluntarily. All her parents know is that Preeti was stranded on a highway becaue her car was stalled, and she called Mohan to pick her up.

When Mohan arrived where Preeti said she was, Preeti’s car was there, but she was not. At the beginning of the investigation, the last known person to see Preeti alive was Ibrahim, who was on duty when he saw that Preeti was having car trouble, and he stopped to help. Ibrahim offered to give her a ride, but Preeti declined and instead asked to use Ibrahim’s phone to call her father, since she sad she left her own phone at home.

Ibrahim says that he saw Preeti call her father, and the last time he saw her, she got into a blue car that picked her up on the freeway, but he was too far away to see who the driver was. Ibrahim assumed at the time that Preeti’s father Mohan was the driver of the car and didn’t think anything more of it until Preeti was reported missing. Mohan says that he doesn’t have a blue car and that Preeti was nowhere to be found on the highway or anywhere else that her parents searched for her.

Because Ibrahim was the last known person to see Preeti alive, he falls under suspicion, but he vehmently declares that he does not know anything about what happened to Preeti. Mohan is quick to accuse Ibrahim of knowing more about Preeti’s disappearance than Ibrahim is saying. Mohan also blames Ibrahim for not giving a ride to Preeti, but Ibrahim says that Preeti refused this offer and said she wanted to wait for Mohan instead.

Ibrahim loses his temper and insults Mohan. His boss Agit orders Ibrahim to make an apology to Mohan. When Ibrahim refuses, Agit suspends Ibrahim. Vikram and Rohit have been assigned to investigate the disappearance of Preeti, but they also have to wonder if Ibrahim is somehow involved. It’s a tricky situation for them to investigate a colleague who is a “person of interest.”

And then, things get more complicated: Neha, who was working as a forensics analyst on Preeti’s case, disappears and is believed to be kidnapped. Vikram wants to be the lead investigator on Neha’s disappearance, but his boss Ajit says that Vikram is too emotionally involved. Instead, Vikram’s rival Akshay is assigned to the case. Vikram is furious about this decision.

And you can easily guess what happens next: Vikram decides to secretly investigate Neha’s disappearance on his own, with some help from Rohit, who is worried about getting in trouble for helping Vikram. What about the case of Preeti’s disappearance? And does it have anything to do with Neha’s disappearance? Those questions are answered in the movie.

“HIT: The First Case” could have easily gone down a predictable path of having Vikram being a superhero-like cop who can overcome any obstacles that come his way. The movie doesn’t do that. Instead, Vikram is depicted as a realistically flawed human being who is in denial about how much PTSD affects his everyday life.

And with the added stress of investigating these two apparent disappearances, one of whom is the woman he loves, it brings an extra layer of tension to the story. Rao gives a solid and believable performance as the emotionally tortured Vikram. Where the movie falters the most is in hokey scenes that make Vikram and Neha’s relationship look like a commercial for a romance novel, such as having slow-motion montages of the couple going on dates. These idealistic and schmaltzy scenes don’t fit the gritty tone of the rest of the movie.

“HIT: The First Case” might get some criticism for having the adding the complication of Neha disappearing. However, Neha’s disappearance raises the personal stakes for Vikram. It also compromises his ethics, when he previously had a good reputation, because he investigates her disappearance on his own, defying his supervisor’s strict orders not to do so. Some viewers might not like the answer to the story’s mystery. However, it’s a plot twist that most viewers won’t see coming and is very plausible if people know about some of the bizarre and unexpected things that happen in real-life true crime cases.

T-Series Films released “HIT: The First Case” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on July 15, 2022.

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