Our freedom struggle has many great stories that need to be told, stories of courage, heroism and supreme sacrifice. I have always been frustrated by how the Hindi film industry, while looking to copy-paste Hollywood and Korean flicks, choose to turn their faces away from the rich material that lies hidden in the pages of our own history.
Two people whose lives I have always felt would be great material for rousing biopics are women freedom fighters. One is Matangini Hazra, a 73 year old woman who led the non-violent march to the Tamluk police station. Despite being shot, she still kept walking till she died still holding the Indian flag, an act that inspired the great Tamluk rebellion which led to large swathes of Midnapore district becoming independent of the British (till Mahatma Gandhi made them stop the struggle). And the other is Pritilata Waddedar. A brilliant scholar and feminist who wrote a famous letter asking for women to be a more intrinsic part of the freedom movement, she walked into Pahartali European Club (a place closed to brown-skins and dogs) guns blazing and after a pitched battle, cornered and running out of ammo, committed suicide at the age of 21.
After watching Ashutosh Gowariker’s “Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey” I can say I am happy that more directors have not attempted such subjects. Screwing up “What’s Your Rashi” is one thing. Taking one of the most inspiring stories of our freedom struggle and turning it into an abomination is something else.
Where does “Khele Hum Je Jaan Se” go wrong? Well where can I start? Should I start with the name reminiscent of the Dharmendra-Monica Bedi 90s disaster “Jiyo Shaan Se” ? Should I start with the horrible pronunciation of Bengali words—with Surya Sen unable to pronounce Chattogram properly calling it “Chotto” gram? Should I start with the idea of throwing in Bengali scraps of dialog for the purpose of being cutesy (like the Ishhh of Devdas) even more so when words were being hacked by the largely non-Bengali cast? Should I start with the totally sophomoric and soporific direction which reduces exhilarating sequences to yawnfests, making one wonder who actually directed Lagaan? Should I start with a story devoid of tension and pace, with minutes of people simply running about without focus, where the audience is not allowed to connect with any of the characters? Should I start with the horny kid from “Tauba Tauba” going about this movie with the same expression of clueless lust on his face? Should I start with the perfectly made-up Kalpana Dutt, essayed in all plastic glory by Deepika Padukone, who even when caught in the blast of a bomb still looks as clean as she is in a Liril ad? Should I start with the Abhishek Bachchan’s listless performance as Masterda Surya Sen ? Or should I start with the total hash they make of Pritilata Waddedar’s radical feminism, with the depiction of her as a love-lorn woman who commits suicide, with no pressure of death, just because she wants to join her dead love (the romantic story I personally am hearing for the first time here) a total subversion of what she stood for ?
Suffice to say, it’s really bad, all the more criminal because of the source material. Of course it didn’t need have been so. For instance, the Bengali “Chattogram Astragar Lunthan” (The Chattogram Armory Raid) , an out-and-out commercial movie, made in 1949 on a shoe-string budget was light-years ahead of this drivel, hyper-dramatic perhaps but at least it struck a chord. Unlike this concoction. And so our wait for a truly inspiring modern biopic on our great revolutionary heroes continues.
I shall leave you with a link, about Pritilata Waddedar’s elder sister, which I urge you to read. Not just because it is a pathetic indictment of how we treat people from our greatest generation but because it reveals a kind of proud idealism that we today can little fathom, far less capture on film.