Chittagong is a well intentioned salute to unsung heroes. This, despite a few shortcomings, is one of the reasons the film deserves to be seen.
Another reason is the powerful subject, based on real events: Chittagong uprising in 1930, one of the first amongst many movements towards fighting for Indian independence against the British rule.
Thirdly, it is a story that moves and inspires, told from the perspective of a teenager who along with several youngsters his age, fights against all odds.
Jhunku, (Delzad Hiwale), a 14 year old son of a successful UK educated Indian lawyer, has the rare privilege of good education and future prospects of going to Oxford. He lives amidst the less privileged villagers who are constantly humiliated by the British. He is a silent admirer of a school teacher, Masterda Surya Sen (Manoj Bajpai) who is quietly organising a resistance movement with the help of a handful group of men and teenagers.
Jhunku is painfully aware of the consequences of disobeying the British. But when he witnesses British atrocities spearheaded by his father’s British boss, he sacrifices the much promised future in Oxford to join Masterda’s little army. A small group of school boys train themselves to use barely functional rifles despite watchful eyes in the small village. Soon, in an amazing act of bravado, the inexperienced teenagers, along with a few men, succeed in raiding the British garrison. However, the victory is short lived as the British reinforce themselves with twice the strength. Jhunku finds himself deeper in trouble and has to choose between his commitment to the Independence cause and surrendering to the British.
Debut director/producer/writer Bedabrata Pain, a scientist with NASA, quit his job to pursue filmmaking. His own passion and sincerity is reflected in his first film. However, Pain’s commitment alone is not sufficient to hold the film together. Despite a strong, well researched subject, co written by Pain and Shonali Bose (writer/director, Amu) and some good dialogues by Piyush Misra, the film lacks the required punch. Effortful, forced scenes weaken the patriotic element.
Surprising lazy performances both by Manoj Bajpai and the young protagonist only make it more challenging to believe in the conviction and fire that the revolutionaries had actually displayed. Nawazuddin and Raj Kumar Yadav’s presence don’t help much either. Backed by Anurag Kashyap and Bohra Brothers, the film manages to make its presence felt in the midst of regular commercial fare. Ashutosh Gowarikar’s ‘Khele Hum Jee Jaan Se’ has tackled the same subject from a different perspective but failed to make an impact. Music by Shankar/ Ehsaan/ Loy and Prasoon Joshi’s lyrics, especially ‘Bola Na’ and ‘Ishan’ , complement the narrative quite well.
Chittagong is a significant effort and worth a watch to revisit t the lesser known Indian Independence struggle history.