“Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey”, directed by Ashutosh Gowariker, has the earnestness of a school play, but lacks the cinematic sweep of the director’s most accomplished film, “Lagaan”.
Gowariker delves into the story of the 1930 Chittagong Uprising, a pre-Independence revolt in Bengal, where a local school teacher and his band of fellow revolutionaries galvanized a group of teenagers to rise against the British. This inspiring story, based on Manini Chatterjee’s book “Do And Die: The Story of the Chittagong Uprising”, details an elaborate plan conceived by Surjya Sen and his team, in which they launched attacks on five power centers of the British in one single night.
Sadly, the real-life patriotic struggle gets lost in translation to the big screen. Even while you admire the courage and fervour behind this little-known revolution, a part of you remains unmoved. Gowariker sets up the background of the Chittagong Uprising painstakingly, yet forgets that one most important detail – he fails to infuse life and passion into his film. Under his heavy-handed approach, most of “Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey” turns into just what you dreaded – a dry history lesson.
In a rather tedious first half, Gowariker establishes how Surjya Sen, played by Abhishek Bachchan mobilizes the uprising. His patriotic army includes of a group of teenage boys who rebel against the idea of a British troop taking over their football field to set up camp. Hearing of Surjya’s Indian Republican Army, they sign up to rise against the goras. Joining Surjya, his friend Nirmal, and the rest of their comrades is Kalpana Dutta (played by Deepika Padukone) and her friend Pritilata Waddedar, the only women in the uprising.
In its second half, “Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey” picks up pace. The plot becomes more involving as the revolutionaries execute the raid into the British armory. Subsequently, the scenes in which they escape, are hunted down, and die as martyrs, are particularly poignant. Yet, clocking at almost three hours, the film drags its feet. You wish once again that Gowariker exercised more restraint.
To his credit, the director chooses a lesser-known chapter of Indian Independence history and this works in drawing you in to some extent. His characters lack depth, however, and the acting, especially by the younger cast and the English officers is stiff. While Deepika Padukone pours sincerity into her character of Kalpana, Abhishek Bachchan is miscast as the heroic Surjya Sen. He narrates his lines indifferently and makes it difficult for you to empathize with him. Sikander Kher, as Nirmal, stands out in comparison, offering his best despite limitations.
Also lending Gowariker’s canvas a flat feel is the lifeless cinematography, and a particularly uninspired soundtrack by Sohail Sen. Watching “Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey”, it’s hard not to be reminded of the emotional depth that AR Rahman’s stirring soundtracks invested into the director’s previous films.
Alas, despite its important subject, what’s missing in this film is drama, conflict and outrage. It’s precisely why “Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey” ends up boring. The director who made audiences leap to their feet and cheer as Bhuvan’s team of villagers won that nail-biting match in “Lagaan”, fails to turn the Chittagong Uprising into engaging cinema.
I’m going with two out of five for Ashutosh Gowariker’s “Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey”. It’s a noble effort that gives you a glimpse of forgotten history. But this hero has feet of clay.