Since its release on October 12, 'Chittagong' has been in the news for all the right reasons. Based on the 1930 uprising against the British in Chittagong, the film is directed by debutante Bedabrata Pain (pronounced pa-een), who is currently based in Los Angeles.
Though the film’s reviews do enough to spur the interest of a viewer, what makes 'Chittagong' that much more intriguing is that Bedabrata, until 2008, was a reputed scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL), looking at becoming the chief scientist of the lab. The step up, he says in a tete-a-tete with City Express, was what shook him out of his scientific stupor and propelled him towards taking up direction.
“My chief sat me down one day and said, ‘listen, stop running around and plan ahead. You will be the next chief scientist.’ When I came away from that meeting I was terrified. I pictured myself as this old man sitting in a lab overlooking other scientists. That wasn’t what I wanted my life to be. So I quit soon enough and by that time my wife had made Amu and the seeds of making a movie were sown in my head,” recalls the man.
Having been largely active in the performing arts since his college days, for Bedo, as he is also known as, taking up a film project only seemed natural. “A good scientist is a good actor. When you come up with a prototype, it takes good skills to convince an investor to give you money, much like an actor trying to convince his audience to buy that ticket,” he says chuckling.
So why 'Chittagong' of all the film subjects he could’ve chosen?
“Any Bengali will know of the Chittagong uprising and I had studied it as a child. Once, in a conversation with a History grad student studying at DU, I was surprised to find that she had no knowledge of the incident and realised that there maybe a lot of people like her. Later in 2006, I had the chance to meet Subodh Roy (the protagonist of the film) on his death-bed. All of these I guess contributed to it.”
Making the film
“For 'Chittagong', there were two kinds of research I had to do - refamiliarising myself with the incident which meant getting the timeline right, and the period research; how was life in the 1930s. There were many minute details that I needed to pay attention to, like the look of the buildings, did they wear baniyans at that time and if they did, what kind of cut, the kind of ammunition available and so on so forth,” explains Bedo.
Research alone took the director a good year to complete, trying to source information from books and historians. One very useful source was Subodh Roy’s brother. “There were quite a few interesting facts I found out from him. For instance, the British apparently handed out red and white cards to the boys at that time; red indicated suspected terrorists and white meant a clean chit. That was something I had never heard of or read until he told me.”
Another reason why 'Chittagong' is close to Bedo’s heart is the loss of his son who died during filming. “He was 14 years old, the same age as Jhunku (Subodh Roy) and I would keep asking him how he would’ve reacted and felt in the same scenario. In a way, it became a personal journey.”
His biggest moment before making the film however, wasn’t meeting the protagonist of his film but meeting the still alive Binod Bihari Chowdhury who is last surviving revolutionary. “When I met Jhunku, his health was failing and we couldn’t speak to him much. But Binod Chowdhary, at the age of 99 was on a hunger strike. If at that age he could stand up for what he believed in, then at the age of 14 or 15, how much more dynamic would he have been?” wonders the director.
Pointing out that we live in an age of mediocrity where we settle for less than 100 per cent, Chittagong was his way of capturing that spirit of expect nothing less than what is deserved.
Science and art
With 87 invention patents to his credit, including the active pixel sensor that is used in cameras of all kinds to being inducted into the US Space Technology Hall of Fame, Bedo enjoyed quite a scientific career before his dramatic shift. However, science he says will always be an active part of his life. “I’ve worked both behind the technology and used it practically. Now I know exactly what the problems are and how to improve them. That’s something I want to work on. Besides that, before I left JPL, we were working on dark matter and there were quite a few things that I began that I want to finish. So I don’t think I can stop being a scientist.” However, in the same breath, he goes on to reel out ideas that he’s formulating for his next films. “There are two romantic stories set in a political turmoil and one on World War II set in Ukraine that I’m planning. I might also make a philosophical film. We’ll have to see.”
At an age when most would be planning their retirement, Bedo who’s pushing 50 takes a step back and claims he doesn’t know exactly where to go with two very different career paths stretched out in front of him.