Mayank Shekhar's Review: Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Se

By Hindustan Times

Director: Ashutosh Gowariker
Actors: Abhishek Bachchan, Deepika Padukone
Rating: *1/2

A little boy, who looks mysteriously like the ‘Malgudi’ (Master Manjunath) from the television show Malgudi Days, plays a zamindar’s son here. First he fibs his age. Then he concedes he’s only 13. Him and his friends, at least one of them who’s 14, line up at a makeshift office. Adult, firebrand revolutionaries interview them.

It isn’t clear if these children wish to pick up guns, attack an organised army, because some local soldiers took over their Kheleinfootball field. Or because a Brit officer beat up one of the boys for fiddling with a signage that warned Indians and dogs against entering a “European Club.” Or, god knows. Maybe they just wanted to bunk school, feel cool -- regular things that make a teenaged mind tick, nuances of slaving under an imperialist regime is unlikely to be one of them.

All these children get instantly recruited into an outlawed, militant group. The pre-condition is they don’t tell their parents about it. They gawk at grown up men they’re meant to follow: Surjya da (Abhishek Bachchan), a teacher, “master da” to his students; his ‘deputy da’ Nirmal (Sikander Kher); a ‘macho da’ (macho Bengali gent) Ganesh….

Kids steal from home, learn how to operate weapons, build bombs, under the pretext of evening games or tuitions. No one at home figures. Is enrolling credulous teenagers to die in violent, armed struggles dangerous indoctrination, or romance for an imagined nation? I’m not sure. The film actively celebrates it. Some, like me, are likely to be morally outraged. But this irritation doesn’t last too long. Severe film fatigue quickly sets in instead.

We’re in 1930, a year after Gandhi’s non-violent civil disobedience movement, which the fiery, frustrated youngsters in East Bengal believe, has yielded no results. The Indian National Army was to reveal itself later as a more controversial outfit, for its attempted links with Fascists, Nazis, Japanese dictators. Its local branch in Chittagong, at this point, is preparing for an all-out armed attack against the British. They intend to take over every post of colonial rule in their district: the armory, cantonment, police lines, telegraph office, blocking even train lines to the nearest railhead. There is no debate on this issue. The bland screenplay renders itself out with abysmally no conflict within intricacies of the plot or the group that executes it.

The climax (just the film’s mid-point, by the way) remains then the only story to be told. The armory has no grenades (uh-oh). The group’s assault registers hardly any British casualties -- they were all out that night on Good Friday (okay). Mission half accomplished, fighters labour through the rest of the film, escaping their eventual hunt. Prey, tell why? Mise-en-scene isn’t the only missing link.

Merely every block, bump and blip on the revolutionary road here is accurately detailed, right down to each officer and his designation flashed onscreen. The picture is evidently faithful to the non-fiction account, Manini Chatterjee’s Do And Die, it’s adapted from. We get the point.

The director (Gowariker) -- over-generous as usual as editor, merciless toward his dulled audience -- is still not sure we get the picture. It’s been over two and half hours. Extreme patience, not patriotism, can sail you through this wikipedia page.

Parts of the same story, perhaps from that 13-year-old Malgudi’s perspective, could have made for a revealing film. That’s probably what made Chittagong Uprising unique. I’m told, someone's making that film already (Shonali Bose's Chittagong Rising). Good to know. Or after this, maybe not.

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