Chittagong: A Film that Reclaims our History

Prof. Chaman Lal


Prof. Chaman Lal (Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi) is an eminent academic known for his contributions in promoting progressive politics and its values. His works on Bhagat Singh and Punjabi revolutionary poet Pash are widely appreciated.

After many years, perhaps after my JNU student days, saw another new film on release time itself. ‘Chittagong’-film based on legendary 1932 Chittagong revolutionary movement led by Master Surya Sen, directed by Bedabrata Pain, was released yesterday itself and I went to see it today itself, as it was being shown in DLF Mall SL star cinema there. Though expensive at Rs.375/, but my interest in the movement and its already positive reporting motivated me to go for it quickly.

And I must say that 105 minute film is so well made that it enlivened the 1932 Chittagong movement on screen in very real form and without making it melodramatic . Seen from the eyes of a 14 year old child revolutionary-Jhunku, who later rose to become one of the major Communist leaders of the country-Subodh Roy and whose last interview in 2006, just two weeks before his passing away is part of the film, director Bedabrata Pain has done full justice to this great revolutionary movement of India. Written by his wife and co-director Shonali Bose, the film brings into focus the one of the most progressive revolutionary movement of freedom struggle, led by legendary hero Master Surya Sen. Movement was bound to fail, as many other revolutionary movements of those times, very close to it was north Indian HSRA movement led by Bhagat Singh. Film has shown the actual happenings of movement like beginning from demonstrations against Jatin Das’s martyrdom in September 1929, led by Master Surya Sen in Chittagong, slowly developing into revolutionary network due to the oppressive British colonial structure, finally leading to raid on Chittagong armory looting arms and capturing Chittagong at least for a day or so and then retreating to hilly terrains of the thick forest land and fighting against colonial might heroically. Many children in age group of 14-18 were part of this ‘Indian Republican Army’, some were sent back homes, of which many got captured, including Jhunku, who was sent to Andamans and returns after seven years and again becomes active and becomes part of Tebhaga peasant movement, which began in 1945, at the fag end of British rule! Master Surya Sen is able to move underground for more than three years and is finally captured and executed on 12th January 1934. Preetilata Wadedar, ends her life after successful raid on European club in 1932 and killing of brutal police officers-Johnson and Ehsanulla.

Mastar Da’s statue in Chittagong

Manoj Bajpayee had played role of Master Surya Sen in restrained manner, unlike films made on the life of Bhagat Singh, showing him in very loud manner. Other actors, particularly debut Delzad Hiwale playing as Jhunku has performed fantastically fine. Vega Tamotia as Preetilata has been focused more in love and her sacrificing commitment, rather in a strong revolutionary leading role.

The best part of the film is its linkage to Tebhaga peasant movement of 1945. Three major revolutionary movements of India-Gadar party movement of 1913-15, Bhagat Singh led HSRA movement of 1923-1932 and Chitttagong revolutionary movement-1930-33, produced the maximum Communist cadres and leaders from its womb. Almost all the survivors of Chittagong revolutionary movement, as of Bhagat Singh led movement turned into Communists-Anant Singh, Lokenath Bal, Ganesh Ghosh, Subodh Roy(Jhunku) etc. later rose to become leading Communist leaders of Bengal.Anant Singh never compromised with his rebel spirits and continued to be jailed after 1947 as radical communist.

Surely as Bhagat Singh had the potential to become Lenin of India, so had Master Surya Sen to become Mao Ze Dong of India and both together had the potential of becoming Fidel and Che of India and could had led successful revolution even with the children army they had with them! I had thoroughly enjoyed Chittagong as a treat to my aesthetic as well as radical senses! My only wonder was that few years ago, Chittagong movement was made known to me in most impressive manner by Manini Chatterjee’s book-‘Do and Die’-perhaps still the best book on Chittagong, in film titles or credits no mention has been made of this vital book! But for me both book ‘Do and Die’ and film ‘Chittagong’ provided excellent mental pleasure, knowledge and sense of belonging to this great heritage of revolutionary freedom struggle. Irony however is that as Lahore’s great heritage as centre and symbol of revolutionary freedom struggle of India was somehow lost due to partition, so has been with Chittagong in East. Loss of Chittagong as symbol and centre is more sad, as East Bengal and now Bangladesh took pride in its secular heritage, unlike Pakistan, who discarded it. Now when even Pakistan has acknowledged Lahore as symbol with naming of ‘Bhagat singh Chow’-the execution place of martyr, should not Bangladesh follow the example by building grand memorial to the best symbol and centre of revolutionary freedom struggle in the east, with great martyrs like Master Surya Sen and Preetilata Wadedar, who, have been given less than their due even in West Bengal, where the whole symbolism has been appropriated by Subhash Bose, Tagore and Vivekanand!


One Comment

  1. Thank you so much for a fabulous and perceptive review. i am so touched that you went to see the film, almost immediately wrote this review. you have raised certain points that are so important that i thought i’d add my two cents – purely to start a discussion on these questions or to clarify.

    first of all, i wanted to tell a story of victory, rather than of defeat. growing up with stories on chittagong (i am a bengali – fluent in reading, writing and speaking), what has always struck me is that the uprising didn’t end in 1934 with masterda’s death. in this regards, utpal dutta’s tiner torobari had a big influence on me. coming back to chittagong – i noticed that almost everybody survived and lived, and vigorously participated in the political life (most of them became communists with a few exceptions) and won some fine victories. i have tried to weave my story to reach that victorious climax.

    secondly, i had access to most books and accounts written in bengali, way back in 1950s and 1960s. from anant singh’s chattagramer jubo bidroho (which is a fabulous chronicle of the 1930-34 uprising) to suresh dey’s mukti sopan jalalabad (the only first hand account of the battle of jalalabad to this date), to various anthologies edited sachindranath guha, or pritilata’s diary that i got in dhalghat, bangladesh, and not to speak of the first hand accounts from subodh-da and benode behari choudhury (102 year old last surviving participant of the uprising residing in chittagong) – i had no dearth of source materials.

    the bigger problem i had was to understand and recreate the milieu and the atmosphere of that era. for that both benode-babu and subodh roy’s brother suhas roy were god-sent! from the style and design of the plates in which food was served to the description of the red and white cards (which most accounts seemed to side-step, including do and die) to the description of colour of walls and the styles of furniture, i got detailed descriptions from them. we even went to the extent of renting schools built in 1910s and 1920s for shooting so that the architecture would be right. for instance, the edges of our walls nowadays are sharp, while in 1930s it was beveled.

    thirdly, the question of do and die. manini chatterjee had put together a very well-researched and documented chronicles of the events. the book is great read. being in english, her book reached out beyond, and she rendered a great service in this regard. (there was another english book before this in 1977, i believe, but that certainly lacked manini’s clarity).

    however, being a bengali armed with the entire battery of bengali source materials, manini’s book – as amazing as it is – was not necessary for me. however, i was perfectly willing and happy to bring her as a consultant, and acknowledge her book, but then she sold the rights to her book to ashutosh gowarikar – which certainly created a legal barrier.

    finally, just to clarify one tiny point. the story was written by me and shonali. shonali is not the co-director, but co-producer. the film is produced and directed by me. in fact, the film was made because i put in every bit of money into this film. when every bombay film producers refused to back this project, i put in my life savings to make this film.

    thank you again for seeing the film, and highlighting the ideo-political issue surrounding the film. i have tried hard to get political issues in the background, and the let the fact speak for themselves, and allow people to draw their own conclusion. whether i have succeeded or not is for you all to judge.

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