-Jyoti Sharma Bawa
What makes a soldier ignore concerns about his life, his family behind and fight wars? The easy answer would be patriotism, the deep love one has for one’s country. However, what if you are not even fighting for your own country but people who dismissively term you slaves and treat you less than human? What drives you then? Diljit Dosanjh’s Sajjan Singh Rangroot could have answered those complex questions – at its heart, it is a brilliant story. Soldiers from pre-Independence India travelled all the way to Europe to fight against Germans and for their masters during World War 1.
Sajjan Singh Rangroot
Cast: Diljit Dosanjh, Yograj Singh
Director: Pankaj Batra
Diljit’s Sajjan Singh is one such soldier but he is neither terrified of his masters, nor in awe of them. He is fighting because he belongs to a race of warriors, the Sikhs, and because somewhere he believes that if they win the ‘Great War’ for the British, his country may be made independent. As his friends fall during the battle, there is a moment of self doubt – “Will the masters respect their blood they are spilling? Will they make Punjab independent?” But other than that rare moment, what you get in the eponymously titled Sajjan Singh Rangroot are war tropes – some existing, others it just made up.
But before I go there – the damning flaws of this war movie – here are its strengths first. Its leading man, Diljit, is a fine performer who brings honesty to every performance, may be not to a disaster called Welcome To New York, but then who can? As an earnest village youngster who decides to join Indian British Army believing he can bring change from inside, he is trying hard and at times even succeeding. Yograj Singh, cricketer Yuvraj Singh’s father, plays the mentor-father figure to Diljit during battle success. His character has to mouth a lot of bluster, most of it even he finds hard to believe, but he does carry it off at times.
However, the film is so formulaic that think of a war movie trope and it is definitely there in the film. There are the old but brave parents, the virginal fiancée who is waiting back home for our hero, a soldier who constantly talks about getting married and giving his mother grandchildren thereby ensuring his early demise in the film and our hero bringing the Brits to their knees by using brute strength during a man-o-man encounter. But not happy with just sticking to tried and tested, they have also come up with a completely new one – dancing and singing in the middle of war! The consequences were bound to be disastrous – for the soldiers and the audiences watching them.
Sajjan Singh Rangroot’s main fault is that it tries to do much – bring in the nascent idea of independence that had started taking seeds in India, give Diljit’s Sajjan Singh a detailed back story complete with romance, show the havoc war could cause and how the colonizers debased Indians at home and in army. The spectrum is so wide that the film fails to do justice to all or any of the ideas and the jumps in narration takes away from the story and character arcs.
And then there are niggles that make you laugh out loud in the middle of a do-or-die scene. A British officer telling the soldiers “they are in deep shit” in 1914, German soldiers fist-bumping each other and all around terrible British accents of the cast. Given the British soldiers never speak the angilicised filmi Hindi we all know well, we have Yograj’s subedar interpreting everything. Now, what would I have given for the good old “dugana lagan dena hoga” kind of dialogues.