Come March 22 and its time to pay homage one of India’s little remembered revolutionaries Surya Sen, aka Masterda who led his students in Chittagong Uprising
By Manjulaa Shirodkar
March 22nd is a special day, for it’s the 127th Birth Anniversary of Surya Sen, an almost forgotten revolutionary from Bengal who played an important part during the Freedom struggle in India and had a vision for ousting the British from Chittagong – then in Bengal and now in Bangladesh.
Best remembered for the 1930 Chittagong Armoury Raid, Masterda – as he was known to his pupils (he was a teacher) Sen has been hailed in not one but two films made by the Hindi film industry. The first is Ashutosh Gowarikar’s Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey (2010) and stars Abhishek Bachchan, Deepika Padukone and Sikander Kher. It is based on Manini Chatterjee’s Do and Die: The Chittagong Uprising 1930-34 and was followed by Bedabrata Pain’s (pronounced Pai-yen) Chittagong in 2012. Pain cast Manoj Bajpayee as Masterda.
Sen’s Indian Republican Army put its plan (of upstaging British) to action on the night of 18 April 1930 and what was remarkable about its efforts was that they were able to raid two Armouries, cut off communication lines and disrupt train movements.
I had reviewed Pain’s Chittagong in December 2012 and this article was originally published in Deccan Herald.
“Hindustan mein bahadur beton ki kami nahin hai, iss mulk ki mitti unke khoon se nehalayi hui hai,” Masterda.
“Most of those rebels are under 18 years of age,” says Officer Wilkinson. “This is a war,” says Officer Charles Johnson.
A war it was in 1930 – waged in a corner called Chittagong. A tiny but important trading port in Bangladesh (then in India), the story of the Chittagong Uprising was waiting to be told, not just because it has ‘action’, ‘drama’, ‘romance’ and ‘emotion’ in Bollywood parlance, but because it finds contemporary resonances, too.
Told from the point of view of a 14-year-old boy, Jhunku Roy (Dilzad Hiwale and later Vijay Verma), who joins Bengal revolutionaries in their war against the British, along with a bunch of 50 other teens, Chittagong softly but grittily unravels one man’s passion to oust the British from his town. That man is Surya Sen (Manoj Bajpayee in an exemplary performance), better known to his bunch of rag-tag soldiers as Masterda, who was hanged for his efforts (but not before he had been brutally tortured by his captors) and also because he did manage to achieve his objective – if only for a few days.
But Pain’s Chittagong moves beyond the attack that these boys waged by cutting off communications, disrupting rail traffic and isolating Chittagong from Calcutta, and won their battle in a face-off.
It is a film that weaves in self-doubt of a youngster who is torn between choosing what his barrister father wants for him and going with Masterda’s fight. It is a film encompassing pain of a young couple – whose cause becomes bigger than their love story; it is a story of a visionary who motivates youngsters and thus, entire villages to come together to do what is right and, and who is not plagued by doubts of whether they will succeed – he is driven instead only by the fact that try they must.
The film’s treatment is fresh and simply not ‘Bollywoodish’, owing possibly to the fact that it comes from a debut maker who walked onto a film set only when he decided that he was going to be filmmaker! An ex-NASA scientist, Pain’s film is an exceptional effort in storytelling, complemented supremely by experienced crew which had Eric Zimmerman as DoP; Resul Pookutty on sync sound; composers Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy; dialogue writer Piyush Mishra and lyricist Prasoon Joshi.
Watch Chittagong, for it reminds you that we too have causes today, live as we do in times of corruption, scams and despair. These need to be rooted out. What’s missing is a man called Masterda.
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Manjulaa Shirodkar (nee Negi) is an established film critic and author, having worked in leading national publications. She is also a Film Selection Committee member for various film festivals.