Cast:Abhishek Bachchan, Deepika Padukone, Sikander Kher
In Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey, director Ashutosh Gowariker retells the astounding true story of the Chittagong uprising of 1930. Led by a fiery school teacher, a band of 64 revolutionaries, most of them school-going teenagers, launched five simultaneous attacks on British strongholds in Chittagong including the cantonment area and the telegraph office.
Their plans went awry and eventually the British army brutally hunted each one down but their bravery inspired legions of freedom fighters.
Ashutosh recreates this largely forgotten event with sincerity and sweat but unfortunately Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey comes off a high school history lesson: plodding, stilted and in long stretches, staggeringly boring.
The film’s entire first half is the set-up to the event: the nuts and bolts of planning a revolt: building bodies and bombs, getting enough investment, planning and co-ordinating each step. Ashutosh introduces us to half a dozen characters but the screenplay doesn’t adequately flesh out even one.
These young men and women who were so full of rage and courage seem strangely inert here. We never get a sense of their inner lives, their struggle and as a result we aren’t emotionally invested in their suffering. The dialogue is always lofty and theatrical and the actors are insistently noble. Abhishek Bachchan, who plays the leader Surjya Sen, is in sober, benevolently smiling mode. We get little hint of the fire in his belly.
Deepika, who plays the feisty Kalpana Datta and Sikander Kher who plays Nirmal, do much better.
The film is based on Manini Chatterjee’s book Do and Die: The Chittagong Uprising 1930 – 34 in which the author argues that this was the first instance of women entering the armed resistance and fighting alongside men but again, we never get a sense of the boundaries that Kalpana crosses when she decides to make bombs and fire rifles. In fact up to the interval, the film totally lacks a pulse. Thankfully, the action jump-starts the narrative.
The second half has more urgency and momentum and climaxes in the inevitably tragic but rousing finale. However, here too the chase and gunfights become repetitive and I found myself distracted by the thinly sketched British characters and the mediocre extras who play them.
Ashutosh Gowariker is Bollywood’s most earnest historian and Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey is a noble attempt at restoring glory to long-forgotten heroes but honestly, I felt more charged and patriotic in the last 40 minutes of Lagaan than I did in this entire film. I’m going with two and a half stars.