Ashutosh Gowariker Khelein

I am an NRI, translated into: no-real Indian.  I follow Indian cinema in my quest to find only one million original films before humanity as we know it disappears.  I will use the term Indian cinema sparingly because I only have access to Hindi films, not Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, Marathi, Kannada, Gujarati and other languages.

Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey, Ashutosh Gowariker’s latest film reminds me of a time before traffic lights.  In some countries, traffic wardens stood on wooden boxes in the middle of the road, whistles around their necks, using sign language to say you stop, you go.  It was a beautiful thing to watch.

The traffic warden
Gowariker chose Abhishek Bachchan to play Surjya Sen and he did a wonderful job as the traffic warden.  Khelein is not about him.  It is about the traffic, which consists of teenagers angry at losing their soccer pitch to British soldiers and men who want them out of Chittagong, a town in Bengal.

The director extracted passionate performances from the traffic, such as the haunting performance by Sikanda Kher who played Nirmal Sen.  Lokenath Bal played Feroz Wahid Khan another revolutionary, whose younger brother died during the raid on the British cantonment.

Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey is based on Do or Die, Manini Chatterjee’s book on the Chittagong Revolution from 1930-1934.

I did not read it so this review will concentrate on the film.  It starts with Surjya Sen and his class, mischievous boys, their brothers and favourite friends. 

Surjya asks them about friendship.  ‘Would you die for your friend?’  The boys are caught off guard but think about the question.  Surjya then extends that love to their country India. 

The boys don’t know that he is the brains behind a plot to drive the British out of Chittagong by targeting five areas: the European Club, railways, the armoury, the British cantonment and the telegraph office. 

When the British take over their soccer pitch, the boys go to Surjya only to discover that he is their teacher.  “We came here because you hate the British.”  He replies that he doesn’t hate them per se, but their deeds in India.

‘Vande Mataram’ is the slogan Surjya Sen shares with his partners Nirmal, Ambika, Samrat, Feroz and Maninder.  We find this slogan throughout the film, which is a salute to India, their motherland. 

Ambika, the group’s accountant and the other revolutionaries don’t like Surjya Sen’s idea of recruiting the boys to their cause.  Sen reminds them that they are short of manpower because other revolutionaries are in jail. 

Women Revolutionaries
The first half of the film is dedicated to planning, raising money, showing the boys how to use weapons and deciding whether to include two women, Kalpana Dutta and Pritilata.  Pritilata is in love with the intense Nirmal Sen recently released from prison. 

Surjya Sen tries to get rid of Kalpana and Pritilata by giving them an impossible task, getting the layout of the cantonment, the British head quarters.  They smear cow dung on their clothes and get in as sweepers.

The revolution needs money so the boys ask their parents for money.  Others steal and their fathers find out.  One boy steals wrist watches from his father’s clock shop.  Another one donates his father’s car.

The raid 
The big night of the raid on the European Club, railways, the armoury, the British cantonment and the telegraph office finally takes place.  Everything goes wrong.  Surjya Sen, his partners and the teenage revolutionaries did not have vital information.   

For one, there is nobody at the European club because it is Good Friday and the British went home early.  They break into the armory and seize guns but there are no bullets because the British kept them separately. 

They flee to the Jalalabad hills.  The British uses a gun called the Lewis, operated by an Indian sergeant.  Ambika the accountant cries when he sees the British burning the bodies from his hiding place in the hills.

The film has some holes for instance, the British knew of Surjya Sen’s whereabouts, twice in fact.  Was there a mole in the revolutionary camp?  Another hole is Surjya Sen escaping through a side door, twice?

On the whole Ashutosh Gowariker managed to make it the boys’ story.  They were men because they were on a mission that can only be handled by grown men and women, but they were still boys.
There is a scene at the Jalalabad hills when one of them says he misses home. 

Vande Mataram!  That is the glue that united everybody.
Deepika Padukone played Kalpana Dutta
Vishasha Singh played Pritilata
Maninder Singh played Anant Singh
Shreyas Pandit played Ambika Chakraborty
Sikanda Kher played Nirmal Sen
Ganesh Ghosh played Samrat Mukherjee
Lokenath Bal played Feroz Wahid Khan

Nonqaba waka Msimang is the author of Sweetness the novel.


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