A NASA scientist chucks his job to make a film on the Chittagong uprising. Arunima Mishra speaks to its cast and crew.
In the 1930s, teenagers, boys as well as girls, rose against the British in Chittagong under their teacher, Surjya Sen or Masterda. The incident was lost in history for over 75 years. Then, last year, Ashutosh Gowariker made Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey based on the book Do & Die by Manini Chatterjee. Now, a second film is ready — Chittagong by first-time director Bedabrata Pain. While Khelein… was made on a budget of Rs 45 crore, Chittagong cost a tenth of that.
Pain, a former NASA scientist, had planned the film way back in 2008, even before Khelein… went into production. Three production houses had agreed to fund the film, but then the economic meltdown happened and the financiers backed out. He had to shelve the project. In September 2009, Pain received some money for one of his inventions. [He is one of the inventors of the digital image sensor technology that has enabled the digital camera revolution. For his invention, he is an inductee to the US Space Technology Hall of Fame.] Chittagong was back on track. He started to shoot the film in September last year, and finished it in 42 days. In July this year, Chittagong was finally ready but is yet to find a distributor. Pain hopes to commercially release it by February next year. He also wants to convert it into a television serial, because it wasn’t easy to tell the full story in the 107-minute film.
Chittagong is the story of the youngest and the most unlikely participant in the uprising — the frail and diffident 14-year-old Jhunku Roy. Roy battles nagging self-doubts and reluctance on one hand and a formidable enemy on the other to achieve an impossible triumph. “It’s not a straightforward story of what happened. It is about the youngest participant who never knew that he could make it. How does a school boy convert himself to participate in a revolution? And it’s a story of success,” says Pain. Unlike other period films such as Bhagat Singh, Mangal Pande and Gandhi that end in despair, except for Masterda and a few other fighters, everyone survives in Chittagong. Among other inspirations, Utpal Dutt’s play, Ferari Fauj, had an impact on Pain as that too tells the story of a completely unknown boy.
The movie was shot in Chittagong Kundli in Lataguri, a small town located in the Jalpaiguri district of West Bengal. The 60 boys who took part in the movie were picked by casting director Honey Trehan from the local areas. Out of 3,000 child actors, Trehan chose Delzad Hiwale from Pune to play Roy. An actor from the Natyakala Institute of Pune, Hiwale says: “I felt I was screaming out every line that I uttered and everyone cheered for ‘Jhunku’ on the sets.”
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Chittagong, says Pain, is not based on Chatterjee’s book. “My story is based on first-hand resources. To research the film, we met Roy in 2006 at the PG hospital in Kolkata. Roy was 92 then, and he could barely speak. And right after two weeks, he died; that was the moment when I got my story,” says he. “Other researches include poems by freedom fighter Ganesh Ghosh that he wrote inside the jail, spending time with Roy’s brother to know what all had happened during the uprising, visiting Surjyo Sen Bhavan, an organisation that set the heritage of Chittagong uprising alive, studying Subodhda’s [another rebel of the uprising] autobiographical note and Anant Singh’s Chattograme Yuva Bidroha in Bengali.”
Pain knows that after Khelein… it won’t be easy for him to find a distributor. Shonali Bose, who has written the screenplay of Chittagong along with husband Pain, says. “I gave a call to Gowariker just after he announced that he would make Khelein…, and said, ‘Why don’t you let it [Khelein…] go?’ And he replied, ‘Shonali, you make different cinema and I make different cinema. It doesn’t matter.’” But, in Bose’s opinion, it matters when two films are made on the same theme. Gulzar Sukhiyani-Poonja from California writes on wall of the film’s Facebook fan page that “Chittagong is one of the most amazing historical movies — in film history — not just Indian film history. A masterpiece like this in film industry is generally produced by seasoned directors who have the money. Pain’s movie is at par with them. It is a great contribution to South Asia to see how history is told beautifully.”
It’s not a well-known story, but film and theatre actor, music director, lyricist, singer and scriptwriter Piyush Mishra, who has written the dialogues in Hindi for Chittagong, says that one of the letters from freedom fighter Sukhdev to Mahatma Gandhi mentioned the Chittagong uprising. “If it’s a research-oriented subject, film-makers come to me. I also changed the dialogues overnight when Manoj (Bajpai), who plays Masterda, felt it was not my kind of work,” says Mishra.
Oscar-winner Resul Pookutty has done the sound for this film. Pookutty did the final mix in Los Angeles in order to get the best sound quality. Pain gave Bengali songs to singer Shankar Mahadevan to listen. While Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy has given music for Chittagong, Prasoon Joshi has penned the lyrics. Though Naseeruddin Shah was the first choice for the role of Masterda, Bajpai’s age suited the character more, says Pain. The other important role of the district magistrate is played by theatre actor Barry John. “The script of Chittagong is very good, and it was about an uprising that otherwise none cared for,” says Bajpai. The audience will judge that in February, hopefully. Meanwhile, Pain has sat down to finish his next script which is a love story against a political background.