Talking about revolutions with NFA awardee Bedabrata Pain

Anurag Mazumdar

May 03, 2013 18:00:40 IST

In 1930, a schoolteacher named Surya Sen led a raid against the British armoury located in Chittagong, in Bengal. Although Sen’s plan didn’t pan out as he had hoped, the Chittagong uprising remains one of the more hair-raising attempts to shake off colonial shackles.

The dramatic events of the raid and the subsequent hunt for Sen and his collaborators inspired a number of books and a few films; the most recent is Bedabrata Pain’s Chittagong (2012). It won the National Film Award for the best feature film by a debutant director and has received much praise from critics.

Pain decided to tell the story of Chittagong through the journey of the youngest revolutionary in the film, Subodh Roy, known by the nickname Jhunku. From a gawky teenager, Jhunku becomes a firebrand revolutionary when he finds hope in Surya Sen’s leadership and he remains passionately involved in politics even after the Chittagong uprising is quelled and Surya Sen was hanged by the British.

Jhunku's admiration for Sen is unabashed and Pain seems to share it. Some may question how responsible it was of Sen to involve teenagers in his revolutionary plot, but Pain has no hesitation justifying Sen’s decisions. He explained his support of Sen by drawing a contemporary parallel. “You cannot expect a child to not take up arms in Palestine when all around you your childhood is being destroyed by a foreign nation claiming to be the world’s saviour?” he said. “And, are you telling me that a 14 year old boy can’t take responsibility for his own society?”

 Talking about revolutions with NFA awardee Bedabrata Pain

Courtesy: Facebook

Pain’s last stop before he took on the filmmaker’s baton was the Jet Propulsion Lab of NASA where he had worked for 16 years. “One of my managers said if you were going to a rival scientific organization, I would have offered you a hell lot more money. But you are going into films where I don’t even know what to offer you,” he said.

For Pain, though, it’s not as unanticipated a turn as it seems at first glance. “When I was studying engineering in IIT Kharagpur, I was always into theatre, movies and music,” he said. “That was the beginning of my political consciousness which was somewhat difficult to articulate in IIT. But, growing up in the 1960s in Bengal you did not have a choice but to be political.”

Perhaps because of this latent political conscience, Pain nursed the idea of directing Chittagong for a long time. Before Chittagong, Pain had been the executive producer for the award-winning film Amu in 2005.

Directed by Sonali Bose , Amu is also a film that doesn’t shy away from complicated politics. Pain feels that the events of the late twentieth century have placed the present generation in better position to find solid ideological ground and so be the harbingers of change.

“The fall of the Soviet Union in 1990s lifted the pressure from students to constantly position themselves as the traditional Left. This was something that my generation could not have achieved because there was so much of an intellectual baggage already. I think the youth today are in a better position to interpret their political position instead of adhering to a rigid version of political ideology.”

According to Pain, both in working class movements and student politics, a gradual rejection of narrow political sectarianism is gathering steam. “There is a lot of disquiet. The situation in Bengal has been particularly fervent since the time of Singur and Nandigram,” said Pain. “It is now that the youth have to fight for their rights and find their voice. For this, I wish them every bit of success in their struggle irrespective of any political ideology they belong to,” he said.

So does Pain believe that today’s Chittagong is round the corner? “Young people are angry,” he replied. “In a country like India, where 60 percent of the people are young they are looking to voice their own selves – be it in Bengal (where a student leader died in police custody) or in Delhi – where the gangrape protests took the government by storm. Their energy is infectious.” Drawing a connection between the history of Chittagong and contemporary social movements, Pain said, “The youth will rise again and it already has. Young people across the world have risen in movements, protests and demonstrations recently – be it in Greece, Italy in Europe or closer home in Singur and Nandigram in West Bengal. ... Great communism might have failed, but what has capitalism achieved anyway?”

Updated Date: May 03, 2013 23:06:22 IST