Manoj Bajpai, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Barry John, Delzad Hiwale
By Karuna John
IF THERE is one movie that you should see this season, it’s Chittagong. Why then was the hall empty on a weekend? Was it because a film based on a real incident, a ‘period’ film as it were, is ‘too arty’ for a movie day out. Take a bow, Bedabrata Pain, your film was all that and more. An empty hall is never a cinematic quality indicator, it only means a song-and-dance drama is playing on a neighbouring screen.
Produced by Sunil Bohra, Anurag Kashyap, Shonali Bose and Bedabrata Pain, Chittagong is based on the Chittagong Armoury Raid of 1930 by a platoon of teenaged revolutionaries. The story is interpreted onscreen with an impact that leaves you thinking. In these times of accusatory politics, when words like “freedom struggle”, “andolan (revolution)” and “deshdroh (treason)” are wrapped in hollow slogans, history deserves a revisit to better understand our legacy of rebellion.
Chittagong’s armed revolutionaries fighting for Indian Independence were led by Surya Sen, popularly known as Master-da, a role Manoj Bajpai wears with the ease he is expected to. He, along with Nawazuddin Siddiqui, are the ‘big’ names; the rest of the cast playing the group of schoolboys and young women are pure raw talent. Gangly Jhunku, played with an award-deserving brilliance by Delzad Hiwale, grows up with each scene — from a confused teenager working hard to go to study in England to a man of steel whose passion is tempered with logic.
The writing by Pain and Bose presents a moment in the freedom struggle that did not become a part of the national lore
It is in the fine casting that this film is a winner right away. From theatre veteran Barry John to newcomer Vega Tamotia (who plays Pritilata Waddedar), the actors hold themselves back as performers and become the characters. Stunning cinematography by Eric Zimmerman captures the change of light and locales reflecting the mood of each event onscreen. Resul Pookutty’s sound engineering, Prasoon Joshi’s lyrics rich with meaning and message sung to the music of Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy will stay with you long after the credits roll. History and its stories become works of art, inviting one to take what one wants from it. This nuanced subtle interpretation leaves plenty of room for questions and interpretation.
The writing by Pain and Shonali Bose presents a moment in the freedom struggle that did not really become a part of the national lore. These were freedom fighters too, still children, with unbroken voices, but with fire in their eyes and revolution on their mind. It was an uprising too, when this group of ‘soldiers’ of the Indian Republican Army, Chittagong Branch, followed their leaders to do their bit to liberate India from colonial rule. Master-da, Ganesh Ghosh, Lokenath Bal, Nirmal Sen, Ambika Chakrobarty, Tarakeswar Dastidar, Pritilata Waddedar, Harigopal Bal (Lokenath’s baby brother Tegra) and Kalpana Dutta and many more were there. Jhunku or Subodh Roy grew up while he served time in exile at the Andaman Islands. Some others went on to play larger political roles in Independent India.
That one day in Chittagong, Surya Sen is said to have saluted the National Flag, just for that moment the British colonists were ousted, in our hearts and in our imagination. That moment, like many other small and smaller ones, was the spark which fed the freedom flame.
The real Subodh Roy appears in the last moments, both of the film and his life. You leave the film realising that there are lessons to be learnt about what makes the soul of a rebellion.
Karuna John is Associate Editor, Tehelka.com.