Bedabrata Pain’s "Chittagong", coming to theatres soon, seeks to bring some balance to our view of history by highlighting forgotten heroes of India’s freedom struggle.
Matangini Hajra. Pritilata Waddedar. Rehana Tyabjee. Kalpana Dutt. Before anybody asks ‘Hajra who’ here is a tip. They are all women who challenged the British might. Surya Sen. Rash Behari Bose. Khudiram Bose. Ramprasad Bismil. Ashfaqullah. Did someone whisper, “Sarfaroshi ki tamanna ab hamare dil mein hai”? You could sing aloud for we are talking about the men who challenged the British might. They are all forgotten heroes and heroines of our freedom struggle, often reduced to a paragraph or two in history textbooks. Yet they are the ones who, through their selfless ways helped India keeps its date with destiny, and the nation found a Mahatma in Gandhi. Unfortunately, from the rarefied circles of academia to dream merchants from Bollywood, the nation has seldom expressed its gratitude. Thus we have the unique spectacle of Hindi filmmakers regularly coming up with tomes about medieval India, of kings and emperors, royal romance and the like. “Shah Jahan” to “Anarkali” to “Mughal-e-Azam”, period dramas all. Then there have been forays into the world of Gandhi, Nehru, Sardar Patel. Even Veer Savarkar. Yet, they have been guilty of collective amnesia when it comes to those heroes who paved the alternate path to our freedom.
Only recently, that anomaly was partially corrected with “Paan Singh Tomar”, a different genre though. Coming up next is “Chittagong”, director Bedabrata Pain’s take on the uprising in Chittagong, then a part of undivided India in which revolutionary leader Surya Sen was the leading figure. And which counted 14-year-old Jhunku among its revolutionaries. Like “Paan Singh Tomar”, the film’s release has been delayed, for reasons ranging from the lack of viable box office face to a film on a similar subject made with Abhishek Bachchan in the lead. The Bachchans allegedly wanted to stall the release of the film! Now, in just a few days, the film shall hit the theatres across the country with 250 prints. And director Pain can scarcely wait for the moment.
Even as he hopes that the success of off-beat films like “Kahaani” and “Paan Singh Tomar” opens the floodgates for Chittagong too, he is happy to talk of his limitations. “This is my first film in the truest sense of the term. I had never been to a set before. I have tried to stay true to the truth though I have had to take some artistic liberties. The film you will get to see is out of the 36th draft of the screenplay! I have tried not to go near a documentary approach.” Where he had been though is to Chittagong as part of extensive research for the film. There he met Binod Behari Chaudhuri, now 102. He was a participant in the Chittagong Uprising. “He was 99 when I met him. We all call him 99. He was very lucid. There was no mixing up of facts. It was like all the things happened yesterday. It just goes on to show the big part the rebellion played in their life.” Pain also spoke to Subodh Roy, who was on his death bed then.
Talking of Chittagong heroes, Pain allows himself a rare luxury: taking a fresh look at the way history has percolated down to us. “It is so shocking that the alternate path to Independence has not been really followed. As a political filmmaker, I am trying to take the discourse to subaltern history, alternate visions of the country. Real India gets lost in the Right-Left divide. For instance, the Chittagong revolutionaries were said to be modelled after the Irish ones. But that is not true. Surya Sen had a very Indian vision of his own. We need to look at our history without prejudice. Our academia tends to be imbued with the prejudice of different schools. As a result we have closed our eyes to other forms of struggle.”
Pain is trying to open our eyes to one such form, and one such hero. In the shape of a 14-year-old Jhunku – played by Dilzad Hiwale. Set against the backdrop of the little known saga in 1930s’ British-occupied India where a group of schoolboys and young women, led by Surya Sen, a teacher, dared to dream of uprooting the British. The film relates the events with the teenage boy as the central figure.
Yet the distributors and exhibitors were not enthused by a film revolving around a child! So, they went ahead and decided to promote the film around Surya Sen – the fact that the easily more saleable Manoj Bajpai, now riding a crest after “Gangs of Wasseypur”, essays the role of Surya, helped.
“Most of the distributors-exhibitors were uncomfortable with a film centring around a teenage boy. When I would relate the story, they would yawn and kind of say, ‘what’s next’. I had a real tough time initially. Even now I am uncomfortable about the gap between the film and its promos. But in today’s age of PR, I cannot do everything myself. However, I realise the PR guys’ aims is to bring people to theatres. To that extent we have a similar vision.”
Pain, an IIT, Kharagur graduate, who was a scientist with NASA for 15 years, took to the film almost by default. “I was speaking to a girl who was Delhi University graduate and mentioned Pritilata Waddedar in the conversation. She had no idea who she was. That set me thinking….We tend to either glorify our past or ignore it completely. We need to arrive at the middle path. The West has treated history in a realistic manner on the big screen. Here we tend to get lost in jingoism. So, I chose to relate the story of Chittagong through a little boy. The aim is to tell everybody that life is not always about the leaders, it is people like us who matter.” As for simple people who matter, Pain’s effort certainly does. The film has garnered international acclaim already. It was the opening film at IFFLA-2012 in Los Angeles and NYIFF-2012 in New York. It is likely to be released in Bangladesh too.
A few weeks from now, “Chittagong” should matter at the box office. And start many healthy discussion on the forgotten heroes and heroines of our freedom struggle. As Kavi Pradeep once wrote, “Jab hum baithe thhe gharon mein, woh jhel rahe thhe goli.”