Chittagong – A saga of the ordinary

by shalinijena

We sat still as the lights turned up and a man wearing a white cotton shirt stepped into the hall with a mike. He was the maker of the film. I glanced at my friend who was too stunned to speak. Out of 450 seats in the 9 rows of Screen 3 at Prasadz, there were hardly 50 people who had turned up to watch the film. I am not talking about some great intellectual piece of work, neither am I talking about a penniless appreciable work of an artist. I am talking about a full feature length of 105 minutes with a story, actors and music that will completely blow you off your mind. Yes. Believe me – it will.

Lets go back to the unheard part of the history which makes the story of the film – Chittagong.

Chittagong is a place in Bangladesh which was a part of Bengal during the Pre-Partition days of British Raj in India. Around the 1930’s a group of young students, all between 14 -23 years of age became revolutionaries under the inspiration and pedagogy of Masterda, Surya Sen – an important figure or in mass media language, the most prominent ‘opinion leader’ of the village. Even as a freedom fighter, the British representatives at Chittagong did not consider him as a potential threat because of the lack of a proper army or trained personnels.

Surya Sen, played by Manoj Bajpai is a strong, sensitive and inspiring character that will make you a patriot all over again. When you watching him being the Masterda with such ease you wonder how much more versatile an actor can be. He creates a magic, a sense of unimaginable realism and belief for his audience and that definitely has a lot to do with his choice of films. You will find most of the notable men-crew of Gangs of Wasseypur playing major roles in the film (Nawazuddin SiddiquiJaideep Ahlawat etc.)

A crude translation of my one of my favourite dialogues in the film –
“The body of a elephant in chains is much stronger than the iron strongholds in his feet. But still he can’t break it? Do you know why? Because he is used to being chained.

The film is no hyperbole but an honest attempt to capture “the essence of Chittagong” during the period of freedom struggle when innocents where getting killed. Swadeshi activists were tortured to death or worse with life imprisonment. Farmers did not have control over their own yield and the blood of the youngsters stirred violently to revenge the perpetrators of dictatorship in their nation. More than revenge it was about freedom. And that essence has been captured on the screen in the most amazing way possible.

One of my favourite and spine chilling scenes – in the first half of the film, Masterji Surya Sen is taken in by the British officer, an egotistical prick in my words for divulging information out of him. When he doesn’t give him any, the Prick uses a sort of pliers to pluck his nails out. The expression on Manoj Bajpai‘s face reflected that of intense pain and I swear the scene will make you shudder and make you hate that Gora for those few seconds.

Another one of my favourite scenes is when Pritilata (a woman in Surya Sen’s Armed Resistance movt.) assassinates the Prick. What I loved about the scene was that fear on her face. The fear was not because she was afraid to be killed. This emotion that has been captured so raw blew off my senses! The Prick’s name was DIG Johnson by the way. And even better and symbolic was the scene after that – where they run out of the building, she and her ‘soldiers’ and the camera pans to the board outside the club which said: Dogs and Indians not allowed.

Pritilata Waddedar played by Vega Tamotia

One day out of fun few kids play a prank on this Prick and one of them gets murdered in open daylight. And suddenly many youngsters who were previously hesitant to join the movement come up to take fight the whites with Surya Sen’s guidance. One of his students, Jhunku who was reluctant in the beginning but later is not only convinced but committed to the cause – is the narrator of this film. Yes, you will watch the entire film from his point of view.

When the director Bedabrata Pain met Subodh Roy (alias Jhunku), he was breathing his last and was in his late 90’s. At the end of the film, he says a few words and they are perhaps the most priceless achievements of the film.

Honestly think about the best Hollywood historical movies you have liked. Trust me, Chittagong is easily a tough competition to all of them. Yes, it is. I am not even bothered to compare the eccentric nature of the film with the commercial Bollywood trying to depict history. No Lagaan and no Ashoka and definitely no Jodhaa Akbar can be as authentic and heart warming as Chittagong.

If I keep talking about how much I loved the film then the blog post will become a thesis. I wouldn’t mind, but for now I just want to tell each and everyone of you to WATCH the film. Its Indie (which means it has not been produced by a big banner – the director has also produced the film) and that is why the first week (in Hyderabad, it was released in 12th October) is very critical. We have to make the film work by watching it, by promoting it, so that country could see what good cinema can be!

P.S – The forte passages of the songs are so touching and under the loop of my playlist (composed by Shankar Ehsaan Loy) since yesterday, specially Bolo na and Ishan. Ishan is a song sung by Bedabrata himself and was the name of his deceased son who he has dedicated this film to. May his soul rest in peace..

In Bengal, Ishan is the direction from where the first storm of the new year arises, blowing away all that is decayed, dead and rotten. It replaces it with everything that’s fresh, verdant, and pure. It infuses hope, courage and passion for giving birth to something new and beautiful,” says Bedabrata.

Ishan Lyrics

Khul gaya naya dwaar hai
Ishaan ki Jhankaar hai
De Salaami aasman
Hauslon me dhaar hai
Ishaaaaaaan –
Hai wo disha
Jahan roshni, Jahan zindagi geet hai
Ishaaaaaaan –
Hai wo subah
Jahan khwaab hai, umeed hai, jeet hai

[Amazing music]

naritya naya kadam kadam pe
bade jor si dhadkan thi
sans sans me shank samaya
yahi nayi ek sargum thi
waqt tarana bajta hai
sajda hai gunje har dum
hum milte hai ek lahar
jate hai uske dware

khul gaya naya dwar hai
naritya naya kadam kadam pe
bade jor se dhadkan thi
sans sans me shank samaya
yahi nayi ek sargum thi
waqt tarana bajta hai
sajda hai gunje har dum
hum milte hai ek lahar
jate hai uske dware

Khul gaya naya dwaar hai
Ishaan ki Jhankaar hai
De Salaami aasman
Hauslon me dhaar hai
Ishaaaaaaan –
Hai wo disha
Jahan zindagi, Jahan roshni geet hai
Ishaaaaaaan –
Hai wo subah
Jahan khwaab hai, umeed hai, jeet hai

[Again that amazing thing called Shankar’s music and the chorus]

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