New Delhi, Oct. 12 -- Film: Chittagong
Cast: Manoj Bajpai, Delzad Hiwale, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Barry John, Dibyendu Bhattacharya, Vega Tamotia
Director: Bedabrata Pain
Plot Synopsis: In a little known incident in the 1930s British occupied India, a handful of untrained teenage boys and girls, led by a school teacher, handed the British their first military defeat. Set against this backdrop, Chittagong is the story of the youngest and the most unlikely participant - a frail and diffident 14 old teenager, Jhunku Roy. It portrays an incredible journey of a teenager, who battles nagging self-doubts and reluctance on one hand, and a formidable enemy on the other, to achieve an impossible triumph.
Here's what the critics have to say...
Taran Adarsh, Bollywood Hungama
Bedabrata Pain's Chittagong takes you back to the 1930s. Around two years ago, Ashutosh Gowariker's Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey had traversed the same path, tracing the uprising in Bengal. A group of school boys and a young woman, led by a school teacher, took on the British Raj. Unfortunately, their plans went askew, but their courage and valor motivated freedom fighters in multitude....Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey was from Surajya Sen/Masterda's point of view, while Chittagong orbits around a 14-year-old teenager named Jhunku Roy. Jhunku gave up the comforts and luxuries to become a revolutionary. Chittagong doesn't sacrifice the spirit of the uprising, yet narrates a story that's different from the one we watched in Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey.
What makes you connect instantaneously with Chittagong is the fact that it highlights the victory of the ordinary people. Also, it's a heartening take on one of the splendid chapters of India's struggle for independence, not just focusing on the iconic heroes. It also drives home an extremely valid point: The common man can script a victory.
The drama, the tension, the fury... it's all there in Chittagong. The cinematic endeavor of a real-life incident succeeds in moving you, just like its characters. Most importantly, what translates on celluloid is extremely captivating, truly enlightening and exceptionally inspiring. In short, Chittagong salutes the heroes who fought valiantly for India's freedom and also evokes patriotic feelings. Every genuine effort needs to be encouraged, appreciated and applauded. Chittagong is one such experience.
Bedabrata recreates this event with earnestness and fortunately, his interpretation comes across as compelling and persuasive. Also, hard-hitting/forceful that doesn't allow you to lose focus. It won't be erroneous to state that Bedabrata's endeavor also manages to drive a strong message: Triumph of the human spirit. On the flipside, the pacing could have been speedier and the tension-filled moments could have been lengthened for an enhanced impact.
The body language of people who lived in the long-gone era, the apparel and also the overall styling look bona fide. Bedabrata uses the songs [Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy] skillfully. The effective background score takes the film several notches above. The calm and serene locations add tremendous credibility to the Chittagong of the 1930s [the film has been shot in Lataguri in West Bengal]. The DoP [Eric Zimmerman] captures the lush green locales as well as the intensity of the characters with flourish.
The performances are earnest and genuine to the core. Delzad Hiwale is outstanding as Jhunku. Manoj Bajpayee gets to the character a certain authority. Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Raj Kumar Yadav, Vega Tamotia, Jaideep Ahlawat, Barry John, Dibyendu Bhattacharya, Vishal Vijay, Vijay Varma [as the grownup Jhunku], Sauraseni Maitra, Chaiti Ghosh, Anurag Arora and Alexx O'Nell, each of them leave tremendous impression in their respective parts.
On the whole, Chittagong is a film of immense significance. Much like some of the hi-concept films that left an indelible impression on the minds of viewers, Chittagong should also last longer in the hearts of cineastes. Not to be missed!
Shabana Ansari, After Hrs DNA
Chittagong is a well-crafted period film, understated and restrained in parts, and a far cry from the poorly-researched costume dramas that are often peddled in the name of historical films in Bollywood.
The music by Shankar Ehsaan Loy is soulful; and Bajpayee and Siddiqui play out their roles with such ease it is hard to believe they are not real martyrs who died fighting for the country's freedom. The film is supported by a great cast that includes Barry John, Jaideep Ahlawat and Dibyendu Bhattacharya among several other character artistes who slip easily into the characters of the young rebels.
With photography by Eric Zimmerman, sound design by Resul Pookutty and editing by Aldo Velasco, Chittagong is a history lesson that should not be missed!
Well-crafted and compelling
Saibal Chatterjee, NDTV
This simple, sure-handed and easy-flowing film strikes no false notes, nor does it fall prey to any creative ambiguity. The director knows exactly what he wants to mine from the pages of history and he extracts just the right degree of dramatic energy from the tale of intense conflict that lies at the heart of the film.
Pain's approach to the rousing saga of a band of gutsy men and boys who had the British rulers on the run, if only briefly, in Chittagong in the early 1930s - the selfsame story that Ashutosh Gowariker brought to the screen in Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey far less effectively - is refreshingly realistic and clear-headed.
Pain, who has co-written the film with Shonali Bose, invests Chittagong with a soft, lyrical air, reinforced by the lilt of a soulful theme song rendered by Shankar Mahadevan. The genteel treatment of the hard-edged material accentuates not just the explosive nature of the film's action but also the sheer magnitude of the courage demonstrated by its motley group of teenage protagonists.
The director does not resort to overt melodrama or visceral vigour to drive home the point. He instead banks upon the consistent authenticity of the emotions in order to achieve stirring results.
Chittagong is, on one level, a heartfelt tribute to the indomitable spirit of Masterda's boys and girls - the latter group is represented principally by Pritilata Waddedar (Vega Tamotia), the Indian freedom struggle's first female martyr of the 20th century.
Chittagong certainly isn't a drab and dreary history lesson. It manages to be a gripping human drama without being either a sweeping Hollywood-style adventure or a Bollywood-inflected patriotic saga cranked up to a defeaning pitch for easy consumption.
Thanks to its restrained tenor, the sustained subtlety of its storytelling devices and its elegiac undertone, Chittagong should rank among the more distinctive feature films made on India's war of independence.
What makes Chittagong particularly special is the way it depicts heroism not as muscle-flexing, chest-thumping, rhetoric-driven bravado (as in standard 'war' films) but simply as audacious acts of defiance by ordinary people in the face of grave risk and the prospect of inevitable failure.
The power of the tale is enhanced significantly by the acting. Manoj Bajpayee is top-notch as Surya Sen, and so is Nawazuddin Siddiqui in the role of Nirmal Sen.
Delzad Hiwale captures the doubts, fears, guilt and anger of the teenage protagonist with an endearing, wide-eyed freshness. Vega Tamotia makes a deep impression.
Among the key members of the supporting cast, Dibyendu Bhattacharya, Jaideep Ahlawat, Raj Kumar Yadav and Barry John make every minute they have on the screen count.
An absolute must watch.
Srijana Mitra Das, Times of India
Hiwale performs marvelously as Jhunku. Film aficionados will spot the subtle resonances between Hiwale's protagonist and Aparajito's young Apu. But Jhunku is not alone - with a super performance by Siddiqui as Nirmal and Tamotia competent as Priti, Chittagong showcases the courage of extraordinary ordinary folk, fighting against a cruel Raj. Bajpayee presents a tightly restrained performance as 'Master-da' while John captures Wilkinson, trapped between anger and admiration.
The camerawork is remarkable, framing locales like a Japanese painting, hills wreathed in mist, mangroves sunk in water, a Van Gogh-like patchwork of green and yellow fields. It even reflects why the Andaman imprisonment was called 'kala pani' through shots of hopelessly dark waters. The music hops nimbly between yearning and rousing and some sequences - child soldiers fighting machine gun-bearing British troops, Jhunku beaten savagely by British officers in jail - are memorable.
The editing is over-zealous though. Barely do scenes with eye-catching period details start developing - like a tense dinner party at the Wilkinsons' - do they get cut. It takes the second half for the film to show more swagger as Jhunku grows up (played by Vijay Varma, whose angular looks add interest) and returns to Chittagong.
This is a serious film - but far from somber, a tongue-tied Nirmal blushingly telling Priti, "Mujhe tumhare pyaar karne ki - matlab, larne ki shiddat bahut pasand hai," the brigade's youthful high spirits including stripping British guards and making them do utthak-baithak, and finally, the real 'Jhunku' or Subodh Roy talking about his life's most amazing experience. Like a Chittagong orchid, the movie takes time to blossom - but when it does, it's beautiful. And pleases a certain master.
Raja Sen, Rediff
It is the same with Pain's directorial debut, a sincere and overwhelmingly earnest film that - while not immediately showing significant directorial craft or filmmaking finesse - automatically earns some credibility by telling the story with real actors unlike Gowarikar's starry dud.
Talented thespians Manoj Bajpai, Jaideep Ahlawat, Raj Kumar Yadav and Nawazuddin Siddiqui all feature in Chittagong, making it seem a bit like a Wasseypur alumni reunion. The film's leading man, however, is Delzad Hiwale, who plays Jhunku, the gangly and initially-fragile youth who later becomes one of the lynchpins of Sen's revolution. It is through his young, confused eyes that we see the film, and this aids the narrative considerably.
A standout performance for me came from young Vega Tamotia, who shows great spark as Pritilata Waddedar.
The period detailing is frequently sloppy, what with Jhunku's trendy haircut or boys playing football in a muddy field while dressed in dhuti-kurtas elaborate enough for the seventh day of Durga Pujo. It is, as a result, hard to shake the theatricality off, which is Chittagong's biggest problem. Pain's script is a bit too simplistic and makes the film often feel emotionally overwrought, the heavy-handed background score not helping its cause.
And while Chittagong falls well short of being a great film, it can't help but be an important one. And Pain keeps it honest.
Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.