The production friend who accompanied me to the show of Chittagong, pointed, after the first ten minutes that the ‘finish’ of the film wasn’t quite right, it seemed more like a telefilm rather than a product tailored for big screen. Chittagong, by ex-NASA filmmaker Bedabrata Pain, tells the story of Jhunku, a boy born with a moderately silver spoon, turns against the alignments of his father (a lawyer who works closely with the imperial establishment) and joins the order of Master-da, Surjo Sen. The film details the training and heroic acts and events of a boy-army raised in the jungles on primitive armaments. Clearly, the chapter of revolutionary nationalism in the Indian nationalist histories. This is also a prehistory of the Indian forest-insurgent – Maoist, ethnic and language insurgency, timber smuggler among others. Small capsules of rebellion, mostly teenaged ones, are harnessed into a sizeable machine of armed resistance. Sovereign power is broken down so its shards can be appropriated for the new mushrooming sovereigns. An implicit history of power told through the lens of insurgency. Bengali gunmen of Chittagong, fight, on the frontier, with Mongoloid men (only some British men) - recruits, presumably of the Gurkha regiment. A counterscript of Gandhian nationalism, aswing in the 1930s, is woven.
The growing and strengthening teenaged boy becomes the key metaphor in this script – one that is put through ordeals, solidifed and tested again. Like steel hardening from ore. New subjects are created for the tentacles of power to operate upon – women are inducted. Naïve, soft ones hardening into the mould of the conscientious objector – the politicized receptacle of power. The story begs for a basic point of conflict, or an unexpected turn of events. The rhythm of the forest doesn’t quite beat to the lyrics of revolution. The scene of a circle of trainee revolutionaries warming themselves to a bonfire, doesn’t quite emit the fragility of homesick youth. But Pain manages to strike a chord somewhere in me, prodding me to think of an imaginary young grandfather, well-read and politically aware, the only graduate in his village. Funny, there is never a mention of the Bengali place-name Chattogram, whose dense dialect was often spoken in our household. A fire-eyed girl strikes a lifelong chord with a gangly boy. Rivers and mountains speak consent to this covenant. The covenant fuels the Tehbhaga movement, years later, where peasants raid the imperial grain-storehouse. Jhunku, son of a barrister, remains their leader. Were they all Bengalis – the faceless serfs? Were there no Gramscian ‘organic’ intellectuals risen from among the toiling class? Jhunku grows up a metonym for the organic spread of sovereignty – when the shell breaks, the most powerful of the powerless grab at the grains. Pain offers historical astuteness about India and empire, if not visual indulgence of the Wasseypur or Barfi kind.