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Instead of portraying the chapters of history we’re all familiar with, it foregrounds a sadly lost slice


Starring: Manoj Bajpai, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Delzad Hiwale, Raj Kumar
Directed by Bedabrata Pain
Rating: ***

Immediately after Chittagong was over, a foreigner in the audience asked us why a film on India’s struggle for independence did not have Gandhi or Nehru in it. This is precisely the reason why the film is significant. Instead of portraying the chapters of history we’re all familiar with, it foregrounds a sadly lost slice. When a handful of untrained teenagers led by school teacher Masterda alias Surya Sen had taken on the British in the 1930s.

There are many interesting stories and characters here; whether it be Nirmal Sen, Ganesh Ghosh, Anand Singh or Preeti Lata or the clutch of accomplished actors who essay these roles. However, Pain prefers to focus on the 14-year-old Jhunku Roy. Through his eyes, we see the resistance to the British. The film is about Jhunku’s personal transformation—from the early tentativeness to a do-or-die spirit, from his proximity to the British to taking up arms against them. It’s through Jhunku’s eyes that we see the world of the young revolutionaries, their training sessions, jokes, tricks, love and laughter. Pain’s film is terse, straight, fuss-free and simple. It does begin to flag a little in the middle, the narrative threatens to get out of hand, but remains largely affecting. Mostly because of a superb turn by Delzad Hiwale—his fears, sorrow at losing friends, his hardening in jail and his leading the farmer uprising in Tebhaga. Little-known Hiwale leaves a lasting impression.

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