Bollywood and culture in an emerging India
Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey: A story worth telling
Ashutosh Gowariker seems to have made a career out of period films – both “Lagaan” and “Jodhaa Akbar” told stories of our past, and in some way the fight for freedom. Gowariker touches on the same theme again in “Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey” but this time he chooses to tell a story closer to our times — just 80 years ago.
Based on journalist Manini Chatterjee’s book “Do and Die”, “Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey” tells the story of the Chittagong Armoury raid, led by school teacher-turned revolutionary Surjya Sen (played by Abhishek Bachchan) and his band of followers, the majority of which are teenage boys.
In a small town in Bengal, Sen plans a simultaneous raid on all English establishments in Chittagong, dreaming of “breathing in fresh air” again. He gathers a motley crew, including two women Kalpana Datta (Deepika Padukone) and Preetilata Waddedar (Vishakha Singh) and a group of teenagers. The group studies plans, carries out reconnaissance and goes over the plan. When the plan is put into action though, things don’t always fall in place.
Gowariker handles this film in an understated manner — there aren’t fiery speeches or jingoistic dialogue. Unfortunately, this understated tone sometimes lapses into a languid pace and there are parts of the first half that you wish were better controlled. The second half is definitely pacier and will keep you engrossed, in spite of some bumps on the road.
One of the biggest weaknesses in the film are the performances — as the protagonist, Abhishek Bachchan doesn’t seem to muster up the fire needed for this kind of role. Some of the supporting cast, especially Sikander Kher also don’t deliver the kind of intensity you’d expect in a film like this.
Gowariker gets the setting right, and even though the film wasn’t shot in Chittagong, the southern coast of Maharashtra does form a fitting backdrop to the film and right from the cars to the footballs of the 1930s, it all seems authentic enough.
KHJJS is not a perfect film, but Gowariker’s biggest strength is that he chooses a story worth telling. For that reason alone, and to get a glimpse into a much-ignored part of our history, this film is worth a watch.