Thursday, December 16, 2010

Ashutosh Gowariker's'Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey' portrays a heroic tale in an unheroic mode

It has to be said right away that Ashutosh Gowariker could not have possibly made convincing film based on the raid on the Chittagong armoury and the sputtering armed rebellion it spawned and which had to end in tragedy without the detailed historical narrative that Manini Chatterjee has reconstructed in her 1999 book, 'Do Or Die'. Gowariker acknowledges that the film is based on the book. Led by school teacher Surya Sen, it finds mention in history of the freedom struggle but it remains a small episode, which indeed it is. But for a filmmaker, it is a small incident reflecting a big issue that serves as a perfect theme.
Gowariker's depiction of this patriotic event is very documentary-like. He does not look for the drama or melodrama, or even use the poetic licence that is allowed a filmmaker. So, he tells the story as it is, almost. The quarrel with him could be that he does not use cinematic devices to tell the story. It is a plain chronicle told in the linear mode. The choice of the narrative pace and mode is best suited to this topic because it is not a familiar story and the viewer needs to be told about it. Many critics complained that the first half was dull and uneventful. Gowariker gives the background and sets the stage for the denouement of the doomed uprising that follows.
It is easy to see the naivete, even the stupidity, of such an enterprise. But back then the patriotic sentiment was not to be brushed aside by rational arguments. It was an overwhelming idea. In far off Chittagong, Kalpana Dutta (Deepika Padukone) reads from Irish leader Eamon de Valera's work, emphasising the commonality betwen Indians and the Irish in their struggle against the hateful English. It is indeed unreasnoable to ask the question as to how Surya Sen (Abhishek Bachchan) forgot to understand the consequences of his quite quixotic mission that from remote Chittagong they will shape the national destiny. The teenagers who were roped into the work and Sen's own peers did not calculate things. Patriotism had not yet become politics as we understand it today. There is a touching and even painful simplicity in their faith that the country has to be got rid of its foreign rulers.
For a moment, it seemed as though that Gowariker made a mistake in choosing Bachchan and Padukone for the film. But as the film progresses, we did not see so much Bachchan and Padukone as much as Sen and Datta. Gowariker not only deglamourised them, but he also kept their roles low key. As a matter of fact, the film itself is low key, understated. It was not a self-conscious device to heighten dramatic impact, but it seems that the majestic story makes everyone a mere bit player.
There is the most violent and cruel scene in the end when the British police officer literally hammers out Sen's teeth before he is dragged to the gallows, but Gowariker resists the temptation if he had any of making it an explosive statement of violence. He shows it for its sheer cruelty and meaninglessness, even as clouds move across the face of the moon, the thud of the executioner's lever is the only sound as Sen's fellow prisoners, including Dutta, sit helpless in their cells with nothing more than silent tears to offer.
The violent and tragic end of each of the participants is shown in all its starkness. The boys who shoot themselves when cornered, the young boys killed in the firing are burnt by the police with no sign of respect for the dead are portrayed in a matter of fact tone in a landscape that is indifferent to the heroic tribulations of a group of people soon to be consigned to oblivion. But the fire of their heroism flickers and it is this that Gowariker manages to convey by his simple narration. These heroes did not need metaphors or any kind of high elegiac note. At the end of the film the viewer is left humbled by the bravery of this little band of valorous souls who did not see themselves playing out an epic saga of freedom.
The music remains the most unobtrusive part of the film. Yes. One does not get a glimpse of the inner compulsions and complexities of each of the participants. Even an insight into Surya Sen's life is almost suppressed as is the love that Datta has for him. But that was small town India. Feelings remained unexpressed, and even when they were as in the case of Pritilata (Vishakha Singh) for Nirmal Sen (Sikander Kher) it does not dare cross the self-imposed lines of restraint.
The beauty of this Gowariker film is that the participants remain simple folk though what they set out to do is great and grand.

1 comment:

vergis said...

good review venkat....u seem to hv caught the film in all its starkness...though i'm yet to see it...-vergis

Secret Superstar, heartwarming, makes up for improbable twists with emotional realism

It has been quite rare to see a teenage girl and boy romance with all its innocence and without any of the usual filminess in Hindi cinema. ...