Bedabrata Pain’s Chittagong is a well-documented labour of love. The scientist-turned-director struggled to raise finances for his movie about the armed uprising of 1930, eventually investing the royalty earned from one of his patents; the period film was stuck in the cans after being completed in 2010; Ashutosh Gowariker’s Khelein Hum Jeen Jaan Sey, based on the same incident, beat Pain to the cinemas the same year. Chittagong has finally arrived in theatres, and one thing is immediately apparently: if there was only one Hindi movie that had to be made on the armed revolt against the British and its aftermath, it is this one.
There’s no glamour and mostly grit in Pain’s telling of the build-up to the uprising, which involved raiding the police armoury with the eventual goal of liberating Chittagong from colonial rule. The story sticks to the uprising, which didn’t go as expected because of faulty planning, and resulted in death or imprisonment for the key conspirators. The drama is competently assembled and enacted, and it benefits vastly from the sincerity of the cast, especially Delzad Hiwale, who plays one of the students motivated by Sen to join the struggle. However, one of history’s mysteries remains unsolved. How did a school teacher manage to incite kids into picking up weapons against the British – and did they really expect to win? It was the times, presumably, that fuelled the idea that young boys who hadn’t yet sprouted moustaches could help topple the British, for there is little to suggest otherwise from Pain’s delineation of Surya Sen’s character or Bajpayee’s interpretation of the part.
Some of the key Chittagong plotters went on to become Communist leaders in independent India – a fact that Pain deals with in passing, in the form of text during the end credits. The movie is a perfectly serviceable piece of rousing patriotic cinema, but it could have been much more. Apart from reiterating the heroism of the revolutionary dreamers, Chittagong tells us little about what made them tick – and why some of them became anti-establishment figures after independence.
Chittagong: The Sequel remains to be made.