‘Sam Bahadur’ Ending Explained: Is Sam Manekshaw Dead Or Alive?


Meghna Gulzar’s Sam Bahadur is just like any other formulaic biopic film, where the difficult questions are left out. It is simply a collage of the most memorable events in the life of the first Field Marshal of India, Sam Manekshaw. The screenplay is extremely disjointed, and the abrupt anecdotes are often random and out of place. After Sardar Udham, Vicky Kaushal takes on the challenge of portraying Sam Manekshaw to perfection, and he mostly lives up to it. The women in Sam Bahadur are sidelined, and the entire narrative is centered around the valor and heroic deeds of Manekshaw without, for once, getting into the complexity of the protagonist’s personality.

Spoiler Alert

How Did Manekshaw become a legendary figure? 

Sam Manekshaw was assigned to take on the Japanese army in Burma during the second world war. After four days of constant battle, Manekshaw and his team were commanded to urgently secure the Sittang Bridge. As the Indian soldiers approached the bridge, a British aircraft ambushed them as a result of a miscommunication. Manekshaw was devastated and enraged after he lost fifty of his men, but he had no choice but to continue with his duty, and it was his responsibility to encourage his division to not give up. The Japanese army could pose a threat to British-occupied India if they failed to secure the Sittang Bridge, so the mission was extremely crucial. Along with the bridge, they also planned to take over Pagoda Hill and Buddha Hill. Sam instructed his team not to bring the wounded or the deceased to camps until the operation was successfully completed.

Sam and his team headed to Pagoda Hill once they figured out that the Japanese were already at Buddha Hill. As he looked around to make sure that the Japanese soldiers lying on the ground were dead, a Japanese army man repeatedly shot at him. The Japanese soldier was shot dead, and Sam collapsed to the ground. He advised his team to not stop, and while the rest of the soldiers carried on with the operation, Sher Singh chose to disobey Sam’s instructions and carried him on his shoulder to the medical camp. Sam was severely wounded, and the surgeon refused to operate on him. When Sam gained consciousness, the surgeon asked him about the incident, and Sam jokingly stated that a mule got him. It was Sam’s humor that impressed the surgeon, and he decided to operate on him. Even after being shot nine times, Sam survived. Major General David Cowan awarded him the Military Cross for valor. Sam became a legendary figure after the incident.

Did Manekshaw and President Yahya used to be friends?

General Manekshaw and President Yahya Khan’s friendship is established in the film. They were on the staff of Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchineck and had developed a friendly relationship. After Sam returned from Burma, Yahya Khan had dinner with Sam and his family. He promised Sam’s wife, Silloo, to bring his wife along the next time they met.

When the news of the partition of India started to circulate, Yahya Khan expressed his disappointment in the decision. The idea of division of the land according to religious majority disturbed him, and he blamed the British for bringing more misfortune upon his people. He questioned Sam about which nation he wanted to be a part of, and Sam answered emphatically that he would always be loyal to India. Before partition, Yahya Khan addressed his colleagues in the room with a glass of whiskey in hand. He believed that the British had turned the country into a “khichdi,” and before leaving, they decided to separate the rice from the lentils. Yahya was controlled by his sentiments then, but by the time of the Bangladesh Liberation War, Yahya’s heart had turned stone cold.

Sam remembered Yahya taking his red motorcycle to Pakistan without paying him money for it, and it is said that after the Instrument of Surrender was signed, Sam stated that Yahya had to pay the price of the motorcycle with half of his country. An anti-regime movement began in 1968 in West Pakistan, and it started to influence those in the East. President Ayub Khan requested that Yahya Khan seize power by declaring martial law in the country. Yahya Khan was responsible for initiating a genocidal crackdown called Operation Searchlight to eradicate rebellions in East Pakistan demanding liberation.

What role did Manekshaw play in Bangladesh’s liberation?

In Sam Bahadur, we also learn more about the friendly relationship that Indira Gandhi and Major General Sam Manekshaw shared. Indira Gandhi is portrayed as a strong decision-maker whose values and decisions were similar to Manekshaw’s. The film portrays Jawaharlal Nehru as a meek Prime Minister, a decision perhaps made keeping in mind the current political climate. The refugee crisis was taking a serious turn as a result of the Bangladesh Liberation War, and Indira Gandhi sought advice from Sam Manekshaw on tackling the crisis. The Prime Minister of India also showed signs of worry and decided to directly ask Manekshaw if he intended to start a military coup. Manekshaw had always been very clear about his goals—he had no intention of getting into politics as long as he would be able to serve his country as an army man.

Manekshaw was well aware of what Yahya Khan was capable of, and when Indira suggested that he head to East Pakistan to support the Mukti Bahini and participate in the war, he clearly stated that he was not ready for it. It was not because Sam was afraid of the outcome but because he did not wish to fail, and he knew that the weather conditions would not favor them. It was on his advice that Indira Gandhi decided that they must prepare for the war and wait for the perfect time to strike. With Indian troops entering Pakistan and supporting the liberation war, Yahya Khan felt humiliated. Manekshaw had predicted that Yahya would take offense and make the mistake of striking first, and he was right. Manekshaw had been waiting for the strike, and when the time came, he had the entire plan ready. The constant defeats took a toll on Yahya Khan. At the end of Sam Bahadur, on the eastern front, the Pakistani army surrendered. The Pakistani Instrument of Surrender was a trilateral agreement signed between the Provisional Government of Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan to end the war of liberation and the Indo-Pakistan war, which finally led to the formation of Bangladesh.

Was Sam Manekshaw awarded the Field Marshal title?

During Sam Bahadur‘s ending, we find out that after the war, Sam Manekshaw, who was also lovingly called Sam Bahadur at the time, was severely misquoted in newspapers. Not everyone was happy with Indira Gandhi’s decision to award him the Field Marshal title. Sam was portrayed as a boastful anti-national, and when Indira Gandhi questioned him about the interviews, the Army in Chief responded that he could not stop the media from attempting to portray him in a negative light, but he did expect the Prime Minister to show more faith in him; after all, they had been working together for years. Before handing out his resignation letter, he reminded her that it was time she took a stand for people like him. Fifteen days before his retirement, Sam Manekshaw was awarded the Field Marshal title.

Throughout the film, we are told that no matter how difficult the situation, Sam Manekshaw always said that he was okay and that everything would eventually be okay. On June 27th, 2008, at the age of 94, Field Marshal Manekshaw passed away, and his last words were “I am okay.” Sam Manekshaw continues to be an inspirational figure. For many, he is the epitome of machismo, and in recent years, his tactics and approach have been extensively discussed. He is remembered for his presence of mind, strategic decisions, courage, and bravery.

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Srijoni Rudra
Srijoni Rudra
Srijoni has worked as a film researcher on a government-sponsored project and is currently employed as a film studies teacher at a private institute. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies. Film History and feminist reading of cinema are her areas of interest.

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