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Author Topic: Chittagong - Real Story of Indian Freedom Struggle - Cheated by Indian History  (Read 3432 times)

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dave_dj

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Review and Trailer

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Nun4yQNIZ_M

http://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2012/05/19/chittagong-2/

People in New York can see the opening show in the 12th Annual New York Indian Film Festival  - http://www.iaac.us/nyiff2012/index.htm

May 19, 2012
Chittagong
louisproyect @ 8:27 pm

On Wednesday May 23rd, New Yorkers have the unprecedented opportunity to see what amounts to India’s “The Battle of Algiers”. Bedabrata Pain’s “Chittagong” has been selected as the opening night feature of the 2012 New York Indian Film Festival shown simultaneously in 3 theaters (for location, click here). Like Gillo Pontecorvo’s masterpiece, this is political film at its most magnificent.

One could easily imagine that Pain might have made the film without ever having seen “The Battle of Algiers”. The parallels are not so much a function of imitation but a faithful rendering of Indian history—the story of a heroic but ultimately doomed armed struggle in colonial India that lasted 4 days in 1930 and that evokes the fitful ups and downs of resistance to French colonialism in Algeria. And as is the case with “The Battle of Algiers”, the colonized eventually triumph against the colonizers in a way that will leave the audience standing on its feet and cheering.


Bedabrata “Bedo” Pain
I met Bedabrata (his friends call him Bedo) in 2007 after he read my review of “Amu”, a powerful narrative film about the anti-Sikh pogroms in 1984 directed by Shonali Bose that he produced. As a highly skilled engineer, who had a patent on the world’s smallest camera used by NASA, he provided the seed money for a most worthy film. The CMOS technology used in that camera provided the basis for consumer digital cameras, so the next time you are on vacation taking pictures of your loved ones remember to tip your hat to Bedo!

Although he was an engineer by vocation, his greatest passion was making film himself, and more specifically films that took up the cause of India’s common people. When C.P. Snow decried the gulf between science and art, he surely had never met the likes of Bedo Pain.

In 2008 Bedo gave up a lucrative career at NASA and became a full-time director, with “Chittagong” as his first project. He told The National, an Abu Dhabi newspaper:

My PhD advisor told me that by the time you are 45, you should be absolutely settled in what you are doing, you have your roots planted so deep that you just build upon that, you concentrate on making the leaves of your tree rather than the trunk. And as it turns out, that was exactly the age where I said ‘screw the tree’.

I have vivid memories of my meeting with Bedo as he recounted his desire to make a film about the Chittagong events. Since I was under the impression, like many who had little detailed knowledge about Indian history, that the freedom struggle was completely identified with *hi’s nonviolent resistance, I was spellbound by his tale of the armed struggle that took place in 1930.

For the next few years, Bedo became a specialist on the Chittagong events. As a serious filmmaker, his intention was clearly to both do justice to the actual history and make cinematic art. Beyond my wildest expectations, Bedo Pain took material out of the dust-covered historical archives and breathed new life into it, so much so that you feel like you have been transported to British-ruled India in 1930.

All of the major characters in “Chittagong” are the historical figures who either died in battle, were subsequently executed by the British, or sent to Andaman prison for long and debilitating sentences, including Subodh “Jhunku” Bose—the sole surviving Chittagong combatant who was interviewed by the director at the age of 92 during the course of the film’s making (he died 2 weeks after its completion.)

Jhunku was 14 years old when he joined Surya Sen’s militia. His followers knew Sen, a high school teacher and ardent nationalist, as Masterda, an honorific that meant “teacher-brother”. When we first meet Jhunku (Delzad Hiwale), he is in a lavish home taking piano lessons from the wife of Wilkinson (Barry John), the British magistrate who runs Chittagong. Wilkinson is the classic paternalistic liberal colonizer who feels that he is there to civilize the natives, especially Jhunku, the son of a lawyer and a political moderate, who he hopes to get into Oxford.

Since Jhunku knows the identity of the classmates who have joined up with Masterda, he is pressured by Wilkinson to name names—assuring him that they are just wanted for questioning and nothing else. As “soft cop”, Wilkinson turns the names over to Charles Johnson, the chief of police, who is the clenched fist in the velvet glove. Wasting no time, Johnson (Alexx O’Nell) and his goons raid a festival celebration and kill one of those named in cold blood. Johnson is also a torturer who we see clipping off two of Surya Sen’s forefingers with wire-cutters during an interrogation. Johnson is to his Indian captives as the brutal Colonel Mathieu is to the Algerians in Pontecorvo’s film.

Veteran Indian actor Manoj Bajpai who I first saw in the 1994 “Bandit Queen”, another deeply political Indian film, plays Surya Sen. While Masterda is revered by everybody, he is modest to a fault. When Jhunku becomes radicalized by British treachery, Masterda only accepts him into the ranks reluctantly. He and Jhunku as well understand that they are facing a well-trained and superior-armed imperial army.

The goal was never to launch a general uprising. Instead, they hoped to raise the morale of the Indian people by demonstrating that the British were not invincible. Even if every last fighter died, they would be martyrs to a greater cause, namely the freedom of their people.

The young men who train with Masterda and his chief lieutenants Ganesh Ghosh (Vishal Vijay) and Anant Singh (Jaideep Ahlawat) come to the forest at night or in early morning to take target practice with the few firearms they have absconded from the British, in the same manner as the Algerians.

The goal is to seize the armory and steal firearms that can be used to hold off the British for as long as possible in a liberated Chittagong. By destroying a section of the railroad tracks that connect the city to Calcutta, they hope to maximize that time. When the British eventually regrouped and attacked the several dozen young rebels occupying higher ground in Jalalabad hills on the afternoon of April 22, 1930, they were forced to retreat from the highly motivated fighters even though they had machine guns and over a thousand troops. Jalalabad is one of the great victories of revolutionary fighters in the 20th century and well deserves the commemoration it gets in  “Chittagong”.

As is the case in “Battle of Algiers”, the arrest, torture, and death of the anti-colonial movement does not mark the end of the struggle. It rises Phoenix-like in the final moments of the film in a way that will stir you in a way that no other political film in memory has done. Just after that scene finishes, we see the closing credits and learn that some of Masterda’s fighters became Communist members of parliament, including Ghosh and Singh.

This marks a logical progression from the strategy and tactics of the Chittagong fighters who were organized as the Indian Republican Army into what would become a movement based more on mass struggle than martyrdom.

When we see Masterda and his followers at a meeting in the forest on one occasion, they conclude their business by chanting, “Long Live the Indian Republican Army”. It is more than a coincidence that they share the same initials as the Irish Republican Army, as Suniti Qanungo, the nephew of a 14-year-old Chittagong martyr, indicates:

The influence of the Irish revolution was so deep on the mind of the Chittagong revolutionaries that the volunteer corps of Chittagong was organized after the manner of the Irish forces of volunteers  which  were  provided  with   militant instructors. The revolutionary army was formed after the manner of Irish Republican Army (IRA) and named Indian Republican Army.20 Irish Republican Army was created in January 1919 as successor to the   Irish  volunteers,  a  militant  nationalist organization founded in 1913. The day of Chittagong rebellion was selected Easter Friday in remembrance of the Easter Rebellion, a sudden rising by less than 2000 men in Dublin. The rebels seized some government establishments and proclaimed an Irish republic. They held out for six days. The rebellion was cruelly suppressed by British army.

Kalpana Dutt, one of the female combatants of the Indian Republican Army, eventually found her way to communism as well. In the final chapter of her Reminiscences, she explains how she became a Communist:

Three or four years later it was decided to keep all the women political prisoners together. Many of them had the opportunity to learn about happenings in the world outside through long periods of stay with the rest of the detainees, and a few periodicals and journals of a progressive type like the Parichaya also began to trickle through the prison bars. From there I could hear about communism from time to time and from them too came to me books of socialism and communism by Joad, Cole and Shaw.

The arguments and the approach of these books began to stir the mind and forced me to ponder over the difference that these have with the revolutionary literature in which I had been steeped so long. The narratives of revolutionary deeds, the lives of Khudiram, Kanailal, Bhagat Singh no doubt stirred us to the very core, teaching us to defy death: but these writings on socialism and communism could not be set aside as irrelevant, and so the faint rumblings of a new battle could be heard within myself.

“Chittagong” is committed to showing the role of women fighters like Kalpana Dutt. One such historical figure is Pritilata Waddedar (Vega Tamotia) who died in combat against the British in the aftermath of a raid on the European Club in Chittagong (graced by the sign at the front door “No dogs or Indians allowed”) that killed Charles Johnson in the middle of a speech about the great victory he had led against the rebels.

If it is almost impossible not to think of “Battle of Algiers” when watching “Chittagong”, it is also nearly impossible not to consider contemporary India, especially the controversy over the Maoists that Arundhati Roy wrote about in her 2010 essay “Walking with the Comrades”. To those who believe that India became free after national independence and under long-time Congress Party rule, nothing might seem more irrational than armed struggle. Unfortunately, the world capitalist system has a way of undermining true national independence through its control of markets and capital investment, even in places where armed struggle rather than nonviolence was the principal mode of struggle, or at least a major component. Algeria itself comes to mind, as does post-Apartheid South Africa.

Arundhati Roy takes this question head-on:

This legacy of rebellion has left behind a furious people who have been deliberately isolated and marginalised by the Indian government. The Indian Constitution, the moral underpinning of Indian democracy, was adopted by Parliament in 1950. It was a tragic day for tribal people. The Constitution ratified colonial policy and made the State custodian of tribal homelands. Overnight, it turned the entire tribal population into squatters on their own land. It denied them their traditional rights to forest produce, it criminalised a whole way of life. In exchange for the right to vote, it snatched away their right to livelihood and dignity.

Having dispossessed them and pushed them into a downward spiral of indigence, in a cruel sleight of hand, the government began to use their own penury against them. Each time it needed to displace a large population—for dams, irrigation projects, mines—it talked of “bringing tribals into the mainstream” or of giving them “the fruits of modern development”. Of the tens of millions of internally displaced people (more than 30 million by big dams alone), refugees of India’s ‘progress’, the great majority are tribal people. When the government begins to talk of tribal welfare, it’s time to worry.

Although I am not a Maoist ideologically, I heartily concur with the helmsman’s statement that it is right to rebel. India, like China, is a society that is deeply divided by class. While peasants commit suicide in record numbers, Mumbai businessman Mukesh Ambani erects a 27-story mansion that cost $1 billion, the most expensive home ever built.

Surya Sen built a movement specifically against British colonialism but it is not hard imaging him as a Maoist guerrilla in 2012. What use is national independence if you are condemned to economic suffering? Indeed, the class contradictions that were submerged during the fight for independence become much more obvious when the ruled become the new rulers, the subject of another film by Gillo Pontecorvo: “Burn”.

Although this review focuses more on the politics of “Chittagong” than the craft (what else would you expect from the unrepentant Marxist), a few words might be added in summation. Unlike some recent Indian movies that were targeted to Western audiences, “Chittagong” is distinctly Indian, even going as far as to include Bollywood style songs (but no dancing!) that serve as a kind of Greek chorus to the events seen on the screen. Ever the Renaissance man, Bedo Pain is lead singer in one of them.

The sure hand of the director is also seen in the way that he draws out the most convincing performances from his actors, especially Barry John as Wilkinson, the well-meaning imperialist magistrate. John is utterly convincing as a man who is torn between sympathy for the people under the British boot and his elevated role in the Empire that wears it. In real life, John is anything but a colonizer. Born in 1944, John was deeply influenced by the spiritual side of Indian culture and studied the Upanishads, just as I did as a freshman at Bard in the early 60s. John eventually moved to India and became deeply involved with the Indian theater. If the British had come to India in the 18th century on the same terms, much suffering could have been avoided. That, of course, is the key question of our epoch—how patterns of domination can finally be superseded and how peoples can live together peacefully and in economic security. “Chittagong” is exactly the kind of film that captures the spirit of that quest.
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Blwe_torch

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Thanks for sharing Dave :icon_thumleft:...............unfortunately, it may be wasted amongst lame-laxmans here
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feverpitch

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Thanks for sharing Dave :icon_thumleft:...............unfortunately, it may be wasted amongst lame-laxmans here

ROFL with balle balle and holy ash!
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"Every rise of fascism bears witness to a failed revolution."
Walter Benjamin

dextrous

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has this been released?
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dave_dj

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has this been released?
It has  been doing the film festival circuits since early 2012.  Ashutosh Gowarikar's film Khelen Hum Jee Jaan Se starring Abhishek Bachchan was a hurdle in Chittagong’s release since the two films were based on the same subject.
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k-slice

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this should be a good film. As much as i respect *hiji for what he did for our freedom, I wish the government also recognized the likes of Bose, tilak Etc. By recognition, i dont mean putting their faces on currency notes or holding this diwas or that diwas but really acknowledge that the fight for freedom went beyond just satyagraha.
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dave_dj

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A trip to Andaman can educate us of freedom fighters who underwent the most horrendous torture we could imagine like the gestapo if not more. They are forgotten heroes who are never named.  Our freedom history has been so much distorted (due to political reasons and by politicians of that time) - unthinkable and unimaginable.

Netaji Subhash Ch. Bose flew the first free Indian flag in Andaman yet there is not a single statue or road named after him - surprising !!!!  These true martyrs never yearned for the coveted chairs or minister-ship. They went to die to set us free.  As one of them said " To show Indians how to die I must first bear death myself. "   He was hanged next day.

We have hundreds of roads in each state after each of the traitors in our country - yet we don't even care to remember these real heroes.  In IIT Kharagpur, there is Rajiv *hi School of Intellectual Property Law, the first of its kind law school, after the moron, traitor and fraud but all you have for Netaji is an auditorium.

How shameless and disgusting we are!!
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dave_dj

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this should be a good film. As much as i respect *hiji for what he did for our freedom, I wish the government also recognized the likes of Bose, tilak Etc. By recognition, i dont mean putting their faces on currency notes or holding this diwas or that diwas but really acknowledge that the fight for freedom went beyond just satyagraha.
It is naivete to think that Satyagraha can get you freedom.  In the time when there are so much news coverage, crowd journalism and social media, Satyagraha cannot get US out of either Afganisthan or Iraq.  To think that during that time when the atrocious British could do Jallinwala Bagh gave us freedom for Satyagraha is too romantic.  It's a good fiction - a good movie  the reality is something different.
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feverpitch

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this should be a good film. As much as i respect *hiji for what he did for our freedom, I wish the government also recognized the likes of Bose, tilak Etc. By recognition, i dont mean putting their faces on currency notes or holding this diwas or that diwas but really acknowledge that the fight for freedom went beyond just satyagraha.
It is naivete to think that Satyagraha can get you freedom.  In the time when there are so much news coverage, crowd journalism and social media, Satyagraha cannot get US out of either Afganisthan or Iraq.  To think that during that time when the atrocious British could do Jallinwala Bagh gave us freedom for Satyagraha is too romantic.  It's a good fiction - a good movie  the reality is something different.

No colonial power has ever vacated their position due to "moral force" alone. This is most pertinent in the case of the British, whose revisionist historians have trod the path of Congress-sponsored post-independence Indian historians whose stated ideology of "ironing over the creases" in the name of "nation building" is now, slowly, being recognised as part of a larger plan to impose Congress hegemony over a naiive and nascent nation--also precisely the reason why *hi Baba wanted to disband the INC after independence.

As for British colonialism, considering that they were the landlords of the largest real estate in the globe at one point of time, China, South East Asia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Angola, Kenya (Mau-Mau), Middle East, Ireland, Greece, etc are pertinent reminders that so far as bestiality is concerned, the Nazis, French, Belgians, Spanish, Portuguese were at best worthy followers, and at worst poor imitators of "Cool Britannia".

The comparison with Algeria and Pontecorvo's film is relevant, as it, the 1963 B&W classic, shows what actually happened in real life in Algeria, when the FLN-led revolutionaries called for a non-violent general strike that brought the entire colonial administration to its knees--in the hope that it would fetch recognition at the UN General Assembly which was in session then. Unfortunately, but predictably, all the UN did was deem Algeria to be an "internal problem" of France. It was only when the FLN subsequently resorted to violence (that led to a ramped up cycle of retribution in which FLN was decimated), that the UN, and even the French of France took note, and finally left North Africa with their tails between their legs.

LESSON:
1. Colonisers, who are the original perpetrators of violence, only understand the language of violence.
2. Post Indian Independence, colonisers also understand the importance of (actively or otherwise) promoting the cause of a non-violent (easy to negotiate) or ultra-violent (easy to dismiss) faction within the united forces of their colonised, to divide and rule, as well as to sow discord. Not for nothing did Sharon actively fund the Hamas in Gaza.
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"Every rise of fascism bears witness to a failed revolution."
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dave_dj

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A *hi for Our Age: Indian Film on Independence
Posted: 06/28/2012 4:15 pm

Using visual cues from the paintings of Caravaggio, Indian filmmaker Bedabrata Pain has produced a triumphant film, Chittagong, that screened in New York last week. It is based upon a little-known episode leading to Indian Independence: a group of schoolboys who, with the help of their teacher, temporarily toppled the British a decade before the Union Jack was removed permanently. Although independence was gained in 1947 through Mahatma *hi's non-violence (Satyagraha), growing up hearing stories of the American Revolution I could certainly understand the desire to raise arms against colonial rule. The film tells this story brilliantly. Riveting and spectacular, Chittagong is the *hi for our age.


A trailer for the film is available online. Image: www.chittagongthefilm.com.
Chittagong is only the first film of producer, director and main writer Bedabrata Pain. The film opened the 12th annual New York Indian Film Festival (NYIFF) sponsored by the Indo-American Arts Council (IAAC). Bedabrata stated in the Q&A following the screening at Manhattan's Paris Theater last week:

This story had to be told: Kids standing up to the British Empire and its army. Although the story had to be told, I was left with how best to tell it. We needed character development -- the kids.

The main protagonist was a 14-year-old named Jhunku. We interviewed him on what turned out to be his death bed in a nursing home in Calcutta. He passed away two weeks after we filmed him. He was so pleased his story had finally been recorded.

Jhunku was the least likely candidate to lead a revolt: his father was an attorney for the Crown and he was bound for Oxford under the tutelage of the local British commander.

I spoke with Bedabrata after his film's opening, as well as throughout the festival, and found him to be as pleasant as he is talented.


Chittagong's producer, director and main writer Bedabrata Pain with Aroon Shivdasani, director of Indo-American Arts Council. Photo courtesy of Archana Desai.
After the festival, I spoke with the New York Indian Film Festival's director Aseem Chhabra at the Light of India Awards at the Taj Pierre Hotel. Aseem explained to me:

The film deals with the facet of Indian Independence -- an unforgettable story -- that had never been told to a broad audience before. In telling it, Bedabrata created an epic. I liked the fact that it was such a bold plan: children almost toppled British rule. It was very fantastic, and the film captured it so well.
This beautiful film was shot mostly during morning hours. The resulting lighting, coupled with the director's use of shallow, depth-of-field perspective creates a stunning, historical tableau. Composed over just five days, the musical soundtrack for the film is sad and romantic and adds to the film's layers.


Focus on the Chittagong Uprising of 1930. Graphic: New York Indian Film Festival.
I chatted at length with the filmmaker Dev Bengal about Chittagong. He told me:

It's like watching a painting in motion. Bedo has the eye of a Renaissance artist. You'd never imagine this is his first film. Wow, what a debut. He directs like a master. Add to that, the courage and madness in taking on a political story of resistance and making it ring true to us today. Bedo's film stayed with me days after I had seen it.

Bedabrata Pain with Aroon Shivdasani whose Indo-American Arts Council runs the New York Indian Film Festival. Photo courtesy of Archana Desai.
After the festival I followed up with filmmaker Bedabrata Pain. We discussed how not only was Chittagong historically significant, but the message that ordinary people can generate social change resonates in this moment of Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street. He told me:

Chittagong is a film about celebration of human spirit -- a spirit that refuses to give in the face of injustice and adversity, and triumphs at the end. Today, when there's a striving for change all over the world -- from Greece to Wall Street, from Africa to Asia -- I hope my film reminds everybody that David can win the battle against Goliath.
The reason for the uprising's initial success was due to its leader Masterda Surya Sen's brilliant and audacious strategy to capture the two main armories and then destroy the telegraph and telephone office and railroad line. They also planned to capture the British Raj officials in the European Club and raid the local armories for weapons, however these two plans went awry. Retreating to the countryside, it was only a matter of days for several thousand troops to surround them. By the end, over 80 British troops and 12 of the revolutionaries lay dead. The number of dead may have been as high as 150 as their bodies were actually thrown in the Bay of Bengal to prevent an accurate count. Surya Sen was eventually betrayed, arrested, and hung -- but for a good three years he eluded capture, protected by Muslim peasants, even though he was of Hindu religion. But there temporary victory lay the groundwork for India's independence.

As Bedabrata Pain told me, "Most of the revolutionaries survived and went on to lead mass uprisings -- something that is integral to the narrative of Chittagong. These uprisings played no small a role in the struggle for India's independence."

The film Chittagong is a brilliant, poignant action-drama, made more so by the fact that it is true. I thank Bedabrata Pain for bringing such an import, little-known story to global attention. If this is only his first film, we can only imagine what his next films will be like. I await them eagerly.


Graphic courtesy of the New York Indian Film Festival.
Indo-American Arts Council (IAAC)
The oldest and largest Indian arts organization outside India, it was founded by Aroon Shivdasani in New York City.

New York Indian Film Festival (NYIFF)
A project of the Indo-American Arts Council, NYIFF is the oldest and largest Indian film festival outside India. 2012 is its twelfth year.

See stories by Jim Luce on:

Film | India and Indian-American Culture | New York

The James Jay Dudley Luce Foundation (www.lucefoundation.org) is the umbrella organization under which Orphans International Worldwide (OIWW) is organized. If supporting young global leadership is important to you, subscribe to J. Luce Foundation updates here.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jim-luce/chittagong-film_b_1571071.html
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