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Sajjan Singh Rangroot Movie Review

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Had the film a more generous budget for the battle scenes, the flaws in the screenplay may not have become so transparent

CAST Yograj Singh, Diljit Dosanjh | DIRECTOR Pankaj Batra

This is a Punjabi film about a Sikh Regiment from Lahore in British India, sent to fight in the European theatre of World War 1. It clearly does not have the budget for a full scale war movie and so the scenes in the killing fields of France and Belgium look a little staged and melodramatic. To make up for the absence of the verisimilitude of war, the film has many witty conversations in Punjabi between the soldiers (sub-titled), some of which are received with much hilarity by both the turbaned and clean shaven members of the audience.

The leader of the regiment is a middle aged Sikh called Subedar Zorawar Singh (Yograj Singh), who speaks impeccable English and translates for his soldiers, first while they are trained in England, and then in battle on the Continent. The process of translation from Punjabi to English, and then in reverse, is described in great detail, and much of the amusement of watching the first half of the film stems from this funny linguistic exercise, during which the rustic flavour of Punjabi is diluted by very formal English.

This is particularly true in the scenes with the most handsome soldier in the Company, Sajjan Singh (Diljit Dosanjh). Sajjan gets numerous admiring glances from English girls. At one point he is stopped on the street by a waitress in a pub to whom he once demonstrated the making of ‘adrak wali chai’ (ginger flavoured tea). She invites him out for tepid English tea in return, but he declines, not because he can’t drink that dish water, but because he says he is already betrothed to a girl in Punjab. His superior officer and translator hurriedly explains to Sajjan in Punjabi that it is possible to have tea with a lady in England, even while he is engaged to a girl in Punjab. But he is adamant about his own definition of fidelity.

While the film tries valiantly to explain the conundrum of Sikh soldiers fighting for a British Empire that has enslaved the Sikh nation, it also shows many scenes of the military pride and courage of Sikhs. After the German army has been rattled by the fighting skills of this ferocious Indian regiment, it tries to win them over by promising freedom, should the Indians switch over and fight on the German side. But Sajjan Singh describes this option as traitorous policy, inimical to the long and proud Sikh tradition of honour in war.

So though this film is too long and excessively dramatic, it remains a rare Punjabi film that attempts to document the contribution of Sikh soldiers to the victories of the British Indian army in either of the World Wars. Had the film a more generous budget for the battle scenes, the flaws in the screenplay may not have become so transparent.