Chippa review: A night in Kolkata
Men, some drunk and happy and others drunk and bitter, an eco- friendly taxi driver, a diabetic police sergeant with a sweet tooth, teenagers arguing at construction site...
Chippa (2018), written and directed by Safdar Rahman, on Netflix is a story of a ten-year-old boy and a curious set of people and events he encounters after he flees home on his birthday in search of an Urdu reader.
Sunny Pawar, who had previously starred in Lion (2016) and Sacred Games (2018), gives life to the eponymous protagonist of the film. The film is also a bittersweet tribute to Kolkata by night.
What takes one by surprise is the careful anonymity of the city.
Ramanuj Dutta’s fine cinematography avoids the clichéd visual landmarks of the city - the Victoria Memorial, Second Hooghly Bridge, the bathing ‘ghaats’ on the river bank or the quintessential tram rides. Instead, it shows the streets through the people and the dreams they inhabit, through the eyes of Chippa, who idles around the city with a pup carefully tucked into his schoolbag.
The boy comes across a breathtaking range of characters-- happy and angry drunkards, an eco-friendly taxi driver, a diabetic policeman, arguing construction workers, friendly musicians from a band and, finally, the Urdu-reading newspaper vendor, Sahir.
We never get to find their stories or interact with their peculiar concerns in the day, as the daily hustles take over. At night Chippa witnesses a game of soccer played in a narrow lane, a penalty shootout between teams wearing the familiar jersey of Brazil and Argentina; a sweet seller Suleiman Chacha recalls his royal ancestry from the Nawabs of Murshidabad; a pup comes alive out of a simple drawing of Eiffel Tower.
Every character Chippa meets, his unformed dreams seem to resonate with theirs – he wants to become a taxi driver, a musician, a policeman all at once in the span of a single night. As the day breaks, the little corner Chippa sets for himself falls apart, an angry mob chases Chippa, and finally, Chippa returns home. We wake up to see that Kolkata indeed is not Paris.
Chippa is a children’s film, and not a children’s film at the same time. In recent times, there has been an explosion of films which have followed the lives of marginalised children – from the footpaths, slums etc. Starting from the likes of Slumdog Millionaire (2008), Kaaka Muttai (2014) or an adolescent film like Beyond the Clouds (2017) have all had children or young adolescent protagonists trying to fight out their daily wars. But Chippa tells the tale of a street kid whose struggles oscillate between the make-believe world and the real, and whose native wit surpasses his age.
The narrative wakes us up time and again to the struggles in Chippa’s life. We see him approaching child labourers for a job. Yet, the story never loses the sight of his complex dreams. It never stops Chippa from offering birthday treats, neither does it become an obstacle to his childlike but philosophical musings.
The film becomes an ode to the epistolary cultures of the city which continue to fascinate the children and the adults alike. The story begins when Chippa comes across a letter in Urdu addressed to him by his father, who had abandoned his wife and the infant Chippa, to be read when Chippa turned ten. The letter from the deviant father, who had abandoned the family for new-found love, by sheer magic connects the father with the son. And yet, the fleeting reunion does not absolve Sahir of his guilt.
(The writer teaches in OP Jindal Global University)