Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Se: All work, no play

Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds begins rather leisurely with a jeep heading towards a house in the middle of nowhere because the Nazis have a sneaking suspicion that the occupants may be harbouring Jews and what follows is a 20-minute long conversation that ends with a quick burst of intense violence.

Those 20 minutes are among the finest moments of riveting, palpable tension ever captured on screen.

There's a similar situation here in Ashutosh Gowariker's Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Se, based on Manini Chatterjee's book on the Chittagong Uprising, ‘Do and Die,' where Surjya Sen, Nirmal Sen and Pritilata Waddedar are hiding in a house in Dhalghat when a bunch of officers show up with a similar suspicion.

This scene is much shorter than the one staged by the maverick filmmaker who likes to make his films read like chapters in a book. Yet, it feels longer than the 20-minute chapter in Inglourious Basterds despite a prolonged gun-battle! That's precisely the problem with Ashutosh Gowariker's filmmaking — he can make any situation seem so long.

We have to admit, it worked for Swades but that was because the transformation happening in the mind of Mohan Bhargav was slow and the conflict was all in his head. Lagaan had riveting cricketing action to make up for the slow start. But here, the explosive premise screaming for a thriller treatment gets a boring history teacher for a storyteller.

It is a noble intention indeed to decide to make a film on the subject, but Ashutosh's lack of focus does water down the proceedings.

Don't get me wrong, the film is a must-watch, no doubt about that at all and you can trust Sohail Sen's score to keep you reasonably glued. You can always count on Vande Mataram.

But it seems criminal to see a dashing freedom fighter like Surjya Sen get a raw deal. We don't even know who he is at the beginning of the film, apart from his role as a teacher. Yes, we hear he's one of those revolutionary types but that's it. No mention, let alone an introduction dedicated to showing us something Surjya Sen did before, something that gave him the reputation of being a daring hero and idol for children. His daylight robbery of the treasury at the Assam Bengal Railway in 1923 could've been that quick action-packed prologue for this thriller. But no, Ashutosh shows him in the classroom, changing topics from math to the idea of giving your life for a friend, just randomly.

It's almost like the filmmaker had no intention of making a riveting thriller and barring the first half hour of the second half of the film, the film's a lull, compromised by forced drama arising out of characters dying. It's not their death that was heroic, it was their life and spirit. But Ashutosh seems ill-equipped to draw that out, especially since he started off with cardboard cut-outs.

His approach is way too academic and devoid of drama or tension in the first half that it makes his protagonist seem weak and clueless in the second half. Instead of seeing a hero who knew what he was doing (backed by prior record of a successful heist that's omitted from the film), we see a man who made kids walk into a suicide mission and then went into hiding himself, without any plan whatsoever.

But any primary research would tell you that Surjya Sen hid and kept moving, assuming different roles, sometimes as a farmer, sometimes a priest or a milkman. Again, none of these elements that lend themselves naturally to cinema are employed.

The ensemble cast tries to make up for the uni-dimensionality of the cardboard characters they are given to play and does a decent job (special mention to Vishakha Singh, Samrat Mukherjee, Sikander Kher) even if you ignore Abhishek Bachchan's portrayal of the weakest character in the film — Surjya Sen, himself.

Okay, maybe Sen wasn't the focus and it was the kids who are heroes. So, do we get to know the kids then? No. Do we get to see their spirit that the title promises? No, the ‘Khelein' seems more like they played around carelessly (without doing their research) than the fact that they were game for a dark, dangerous mission.

Are you willing to die, Loknath Bal asks his kid brother fondly called Thengda, who says: “Err… No. How would I see freedom if I died?” That innocence before the mission is what we are left with. Not the spirit with which he contributed to the mission and died later.

That's where Ashutosh has failed as a filmmaker.

Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Se

Genre: Drama

Director: Ashutosh Gowariker

Cast: Abhishek Bachchan, Deepika Padukone, Sikander Kher, Vishakha Singh

Storyline: A revolutionary inspires a bunch of teenagers to play with their lives and stage a historic uprising against the British in 1930.

Bottomline: This history textbook lesson told the good old-fashioned way could've done with a focus

Our code of editorial values

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Oct 15, 2021 3:12:00 AM |

Next Story