wogma rating: Watch, but no rush (?)
Mrityunjay Devvrat's Children of War is a beautifully shot, disturbing film that falls short of being truly special because of the lack of an emotional core. It depends on visuals to make you feel pain and suffering; but there's only so much that haunting frames can touch the heart in cinema. For that, what one really needs are characters and stories.Read more
Children of War is what I'd like to call an over-directed film. Beautifully shot to a fault, and dealing with one of the most tragic but oft-forgotten chapters in the history of our subcontinent, Mrityunjay Devvrat's film is a devastating look at Bangladesh's struggle for independence, in the wake of then West Pakistan's Operation Searchlight - a systematic attempt to subdue the call for East Pakistan's independence by resorting to cold-blooded mass murder.
There is much to appreciate in the film, no doubt about that. The story of the film is important, and its intent cannot be questioned at all. But, in spite of being a fictionalized account, the film is too focused on atmosphere and recreating the sheer extent of the tragedy, than in any real storytelling; this, despite the fact that the film follows three different stories intermittently.
There's the story of the journalist whose life is thrown out of gear when he is violently and unexpectedly separated from his wife; then there's a pair of young siblings orphaned by war; and finally there is one smaller thread where a young Bangladeshi man attempts to keep the flame of revolution alive through an impassioned speech.
The stories and characters, however, play second fiddle to continuously occurring scenes of torture, suffering and oppression of innocent Bangladeshi's by the Pakistani army. There are long montages of bodies, blood and death. Each of these is beautifully shot and hit you in the gut; but there's just too much of it happening.
Everything in the film, in fact, is in excess. The background score is almost always heavy. The performances, even by stalwarts like Victor Banerjee, Pawan Malhotra and the late Farooque Shaikh saab, are far too theatrical. Too many pauses, too much drama. And yet, the story moves along at too slow a pace. At 162 minutes, this makes the film at least 30 minutes longer than it deserved to be.
The film hurts you; it makes you wish that humankind had the sense to see that to be human is to show compassion. Thousands and thousands of babies were born of the rapes of Bangladeshi women during those tragic months in the lead up to surrender of Pakistani troops, and the film makes you see that such large scale human suffering could so easily be avoided if we let our instinct for compassion overrule our lust for power.
Yet, Children of War seems like a lost opportunity. The film could have risen so much more if it had let the characters and their story speak more than just the beautifully grotesque imagery. In fact, one can't help but wonder if the objective was to glorify the gut-wrenching suffering in any way.
You'll know what I'm talking about, when you see this really lengthy shot of a crying toddler amidst blood-soaked corpses, one of them presumably of his mother, and the camera lingers long enough for you to start wondering what the child made to shoot the scene would have experienced, in exchange for the viewer being reinforced with a point that is made throughout the film anyway.
Another personal peeve for me was how the language of the film is primarily Hindi, even though the language of the characters is obviously not. It would have seemed so much more authentic to have them speak Bengali instead.
Children of War, then, is a film that misses out on being truly memorable, because it tries to visually rub in memories of a tragedy, rather than let us identify with characters who lived it. It is a brave film, and definitely one that stands apart from what we're subjected to on most Fridays, but it is also one that deserved to be so much more.
This review is by guest reviewer Pradeep Menon. Pradeep is a filmmaker and a dreamer. He loves books, rain, winters, tea and his parents. Cinema, however, is the only truth he believes in. He breathes and bleeds film, mostly in hues of saffron, white, green and blue. You can watch his short films at www.youtube.com/cyberpradeep.
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