NYIFF 2012 Review: CHITTAGONG
The film opens with Jhunku Roy running from the local British police and ducking into a spider hole beneath a village home to hide. Once there he is comforted by his beloved and recounts the story of the path from a boy receiving piano lessons at the right hand of the local British governor, to leader of a rebellion that was among the last gasps of the British Raj in Indian and Bangladesh (where Chittagong current stands on the map). We are then treated to an extended flashback in which Surya Sen, played by fantastic Indian actor Manoj Bajpayee, as the local headman in Chittagong, begins to form a plan with his fellow countrymen to rid the town of the British and take back control for the indigenous majority. The film follows Surya's plotting in detail as he recruits lieutenants and conscripts of all ages to take part in this movement of liberation. It is a rousing story, and certainly that seems as though it would make an Indian proud of their heritage, and it feels like that is a lot of Pain's goal with Chittagong.
Bedabrata Pain's film is awash with brilliant acting on the part of nearly all of the Indian actors involved. As is typically the case with any film of this ilk, the acting on the part of the villains, in this case British authority and Indians who've shown their allegiance to the authority, are painted in fairly broad strokes. This is not unique to Indian films, watch any Asian film with a similar plot, and there are many with the convoluted colonial history of South and East Asia, and you're bound to see baldfaced caricatures walking around in military uniforms. Thankfully, Chittagong's sins in this sense are very minor. There are a couple of overly cartoonish villains, however, the lead Brit, the local Governor, is played with far more depth by Barry John, and he gives a pretty nuanced performance that makes up for the shortcomings and overacting of his compatriots.
The amazing cast assembled by Bedabrata Pain as a first time feature filmmaker is pretty impressive. The aforementioned Manoj Bajpayee is a stern and steady, but fiery leader for the revolution and one for whom I think I would stand up in a heartbeat. He plays his role with uncommon steadfastness and a stoic presence that gives him an air of respectability. In the role of his first lieutenant in this revolt is Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Nirmal. Siddiqui is less staid in his performance and more passionate, he has really shown himself to be one of the greatest acting forces in India these days with a number of powerful and memorable roles in films like Sujoy Ghosh's recent commercial and critical hit Kahaani, and Anurag Kashyap's upcoming Gangs of Wasseypur. Delzad Hiwale, who plays the young Jhunku, also puts in a solid performance as a boy trying to come to grips with his new reality and at the same time understanding what it means to put his life on the line for liberty. Overall the performances are extremely solid, and I know this is a film that I will be revisiting when I can.
While watching Chittagong, I never got the feeling that it was a first feature. Bedabrata Pain has done the smart thing and brought on an extremely talented cast and crew to help bring his passion project to the screen. Aside from the odd bit of overacting and the occasional awkward transition, Chittagong is a fine film that, once again, proves that India has major talents waiting to be discovered.One the spectrum of historical drama, this falls firmly in the successful camp, and I can't wait to see more from this filmmaker who has a bright future.
Chittagong appears as the Opening Night Film of the 2012 New York Indian Film Festival. The screening takes place on Wednesday, May 23rd. Tickets and information are available at the link below.