It’s not often that a mainstream Bollywood film-maker picks up a book and adapts it into a film. For if it were to happen more often, we would have many more interesting movies rather than formulaic trash.
Ashutosh Gowariker’s choice of unconventional storylines continues with Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey, a little known story from India’s freedom struggle. Based on Manini Chatterjee’s book Do and Die: The Chittagong Uprising 1930-34, this is a welcome change from the multiple Bhagat Singh versions that stereotype Hindi cinema’s take on the independence struggle.
This chapter in the subcontinent’s history is about 56 teenagers who joined the freedom movement led by Surjya Sen (Abhishek Bachchan), an idealistic schoolteacher in Chittagong, undivided Bengal. Their simplistic aim of getting back a football ground that’s been taken over by the English army soon transforms into a full-fledged cry for freedom from their oppressors.
An opportunity lost: Padukone and Bachchan in a still from the film.
The film charts the journey of these boys, from a bunch of happy-go-lucky sport lovers to musket-wielding militants following on a well-meaning and ambitious but poorly planned attempt to take over Chittagong.
While as a story, Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey is fascinating, Gowariker’s execution of a promising plot is as weak as Surjya’s was.
Let down by poor screenplay, ineffectual music, erratic editing and ordinary camerawork, the movie fails to connect emotionally. The slow pace does not help this potential thriller, the pristine, starched, white kurtas are too affected and the dialogues strange. The characters speak Bengali only when taking names (Kolpona, Ombika, etc.), while they mouth chaste Hindi the rest of the time. The British officers are as usual evil and grimacing, while the end is long-drawn.
Gowariker is typically a careful storyteller, evident from his films such as Lagaan and Jodha Akbar, but somewhere along the line, his attempt to match up to that grandeur leaves Khelein disadvantaged. But despite the flaws, Gowariker, who is one of the better film-makers in the industry, does not succumb to the temptation of making a hero out of Surjya Sen. I have to admit here that I have not read the book, so will steer clear of comparisons.
Principal actors, Bachchan and Deepika Padukone (as Kalpana Dutta), the only two big Bollywood names in this venture, do not bring much to the table. It’s the support cast that salvages this project a little—the teenagers are earnest and convincing, contributing the few moments that make you feel for the characters. Watch out for the scene with the boys discussing the meaning of Vande Mataram under a tree, and the pain and helplessness in actor Narendra Bindra’s face, moments before he pulls the trigger on himself. Maninder Singh as Anant Singh and Shreyas Pandit as Ambika Chakraborty too put in heartfelt performances.
Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey is not a great film but a waste of a great story.
After an engaging vendetta drama, accentuated by visual flourishes unique to him, Ram Gopal Varma seems to have lost interest in the plot of Rakht Charitra. The second part of the film has only one driving force: Suriya in the lead role. Rakht Charita-2 is shot like Suriya’s show reel for Bollywood. The actor did not perhaps need it, considering he is already a star in south Indian cinema. In films such as Kaakha Kaakha, he has shown talent as an actor besides his trademark magnetic screen presence.
Varma introduces Suriya in Hindi cinema as a beastly man hungry for revenge; there are no shades of grey to this character. From a young man who refused the violent path of his family to someone obsessed with the idea of killing Pratap Ravi (played by Vivek Oberoi in both parts) to avenge the murder of his family, the character (also named Surya) is unconvincing.
Weak plot: A poorly imagined role for Suriya’s Bollywood debut.
The second part begins with a haphazardly edited version of the first part’s beginning and picks up a strand from the story and fleshes it out into a mindless revenge drama. Surya’s family is among many who were indirectly associated with the killing of Ravi’s family and hence killed by some of Ravi’s henchmen. After Ravi becomes a popular political leader, Surya sets out to kill him. More than 2 hours, the film’s running time, is spent building unimaginative steps for Surya to reach that goal.
Varma seems disinterested in the visual language of the film. The first part’s stylized violence, original frame compositions, dialogues—overall the individualized language that the director can lend to a film—are sorely missing in the second part. Instead, there are easy gimmicks.
It is obvious that Varma made this film only for Suriya, for whom unfortunately, it is not the dream debut in Bollywood. The actor has done roles which are more complex than this. This is a poorly imagined and shoddily written role, meant blatantly to play to the galleries. Suriya does little as far as delivering dialogues or expressing the character’s angst except shoot gunshots and break body parts. Violence was an artistic tool in the first part. In Rakta Charitra-2, it becomes banal.
Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey and Rakta Charitra-2 released in theatres on Friday.