Quiet Revolution

MV

Chittagong

DIRECTOR: Bedabrata Pain

CAST: Manoj Bajpayee, Delzad Hiwale, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Vega Tamotia, Raj Kumar Yadav, Jaideep Ahlawat, Dibyendu Chatterjee, Barry John

Rating: ***1/2

A near-forgotten slice of Indian history comes to luminous life in NASA scientist-turned-filmmaker Bedabrata Pain's first feature. Simply called Chittagong, it tells the story of a group of rag-tag revolutionaries who tried "liberating" their tiny patch of Bengal from the British. Rag-tag not because they didn't have the will, but because they lacked the wherewithal, a state common to all freedom fighters at the time, in the 1930s: the White man had such a stranglehold in all spheres —railways, roads, armouries, even crops — that there was no way that an ordinary Indian could do anything other than breathe, and that too in a restricted manner.

The adults are under so much surveillance that Surjya Sen, also known as Masterda (Bajpayee), and his acolytes (Nawazuddin, Raj Kumar, Chatterjee, Ahlawat) are forced into pressing teenaged schoolchildren into service. Young Jhunku Roy (Hiwale) is at the forefront of the struggle, and it is largely through his eyes that we see this world, in which the people of a country are living in terror of their masters, and which has begun pushing back at order imposed from on high. The turbulent decade of the '30s was seeing krantikaris revving up, fighting for their rights in whichever way they had available to them, with indomitable will and courage. This is what plays out in Chittagong, which despite a few raw edges and some disconnected stutters, delivers a felt plot and an emotional wallop. I had wet eyes in the end.

This is what Ashutosh Gowarikar's Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey, based on the same subject, had aimed for, and failed. Pain's film is low on big stars but high on integrity. You can see the story and the performances shine through. The cast is excellent, especially Manoj Bajpayee and Siddiqui (as Nirmalda), whose year this is turning out to be. Vega Tamotia as Pritilata Waddedar, the girl who is willing to sacrifice all for the cause, shows spark. And Chittagong wouldn't have been the film it is without the pitch perfect Hiwale, who was seen before this in Bubblegum, and whose combination of winning innocence and firmness makes Jhunku such a memorable character.

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