Dec 3, 2010

Review: Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey moves you, but sporadically

Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey (U/A)
Director: Ashutosh Gowariker
Cast: Abhishek Bachchan, Deepika Padukone, Sikandar Kher
Rating: ***

Think of all the things you expect from a Hindi film about India’s freedom struggle. Songs about love for the motherland are a given, dialogues that speak of revolution a must, there will usually be a bunch of very bad firang actors cast as Britishers who will speak anglicised Hindi and at least one character will lay down his life to protect his friends’.

Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey (KHJJS) has all of the above ingredients that have usually resulted in films that are slightly over-the-top, even jingoistic, but which serve a purpose – that of giving you the thrill of watching the lives and stories of those who fought for the freedom we enjoy today.

But director Ashutosh Gowariker, in his trademark fashion, keeps the hyperbole minimal and opts for a simpler treatment, and focusses primarily on narrating a story.

Thankfully, in KHJJS, the story is what makes it watchable. Firstly, few of us may know of Surjya Sen – the protagonist – like we are aware of, say, Netaji Bose or Bhagat Singh or Mangal Pandey or even Rani Laxmibai.

History textbooks, to my knowledge, rarely made mention of the Chittagong Uprising, about a group of teenagers that attacked British forces in five different places on one night under the leadership of their schoolteacher Sen, lovingly known as Masterda, in the year 1930.

KHJJS borrows its story from the events narrated in Manini Chatterjee’s novel, Do And Die: The Chittagong Uprising 1930-34.

Sen (Bachchan) is fighting the freedom struggle along with his associates Nirmal (Kher), Anant, Kalpana (Padukone) and a few more. However, with most of his other saathi in jail, he turns to a group of teenagers who want to do their bit against the British Empire.

Impressed with their gumption and desire to free India, Sen trains the teenagers – who keep growing in numbers – in combat and weaponry. With help from his revolutionary friends, Sen plans an attack on five locations that are of importance to the Empire on one single night.

The film chronicles the preparation that went into the execution of the attacks and the aftermath.

All the things that make KHJJS different from other films of the same genre go against it too. For one, Gowariker takes his own sweet time to narrate the story.

Even though the film is Gowariker’s shortest, at close to three hours, it’s still quite long to make you shift in your seat more than once. Also, the film seems to lack the fervour you expect from a film with a patriotic theme.

Having said that, the strong points of the film is the novel storyline – that of kids fighting for independence – and the performances of most actors, especially the children.

Also, Gowariker manages to recreate the era well (with art director Nitin Chandrakant Desai), and draws you in the plot slowly and steadily.

While the pre-interval portions are enjoyable because of the camaraderie between the kids, the film shifts into action mode immediately after half-time. The attacks and the planning that went into them have been depicted well. Also, some penultimate scenes are sure to move even the stone-hearted.

However, the film drags at a number of places, and takes a little too long to wrap up. Also, Sen’s romance with Kalpana Dutta looks forced and takes a great deal away from the central plot. In fact, Sen makes a mention of his wife who he says died due to his mistakes, but you don’t really know what actually happened. Lame attempts at establishing a ‘Bengali’ set-up, with characters calling others’ with a pronounced ‘O’ in their names (like Kolpona), jar.

Performance-wise, Abhishek does quite well in the central role, but somewhere falls short of delivering the kind of performance you expect from the lead actor of a film like that. Deepika is confident, and doesn’t have much to do, something you won’t really complain about.

Sikander Kher and the actors playing Sen’s other associates pitch in good performances. Special mention, though, has to be made of Vijay Maurya, who like in many of his earlier roles, excels in this one too.

The film’s biggest plus, though, is the performance of the kids. Each and every one of them enthuses life in characters, creating an immediate connect. You smile when they are happy and feel the anguish when they experience it.

After having seen the words ‘Vande Mataram’ uttered in almost every film set in pre-independence India, watch the kids discuss its meaning. It’s among the scenes that make a strong impact. Wish there were more.