Film: Chintu Ka Birthday
It’s Chintu’s (Vedant Raj Chibber) birthday and his father Madan (Vinay Pathak), an ideally optimistic man is making all efforts to make it a memorable affair. No fancy party. Just a cake, a few balloons, and friends. Why? Because the film is set inside a house in Iraq. April 2004. Almost a year since the Americans invaded Iraq. A bespectacled, cute as a button Chintu is scared that like the previous year, his birthday will not be celebrated.
The plan for celebrating his sixth birthday is in full swing. Everyone is making sure that unlike previous years, this year the birthday celebration doesn’t get ruined no matter what. You get the drift when every member of the family says the same thing, “Mamma/Papa/Nani ko tang mat karma. Hume batana tumhe kya chahiye, hojaega. ”
There is Chintu’s mother Sudha (Tillotama Shome), Chintu’s Nani (Seema Pahwa), and his caring sister Lakshmi (Bisha Chaturvedi), and Madan, who gives Chintu two boxes of sweets to distribute his classmates, just to make up for the last year. As soon an excited Chintu is ready to leave for the school (to distribute two-candies-each to his classmates), he gets a phone call saying that there’s been an attack and that school would remain shut. Bubble bursts. But then walks in Mahdi (Khalid Massou), Madan’s landlord. The jovial fella along with Lakshmi has bought in tinsel and decor, but the cake is absent. Chintu is crestfallen.
A quick rewind. Chintu's family are illegal immigrants from Bihar. His father Madan lands in Iraq during Saddam Hussein's rule to earn a livelihood and soon his family joins. Until George W Bush acts the party pooper. And the family gets stuck in a warzone nation, unable to get the Indian government to believe that they indeed are 'Indian' and need to be evacuated. And so, Chintu's innocent demands for a sparkly birthday cake makes so much sense, and rightfully establishes the crux of the story, which is narrated over the course of a day, in a home.
Cut to present, Mahdi helps Madan to restore an old oven from the warehouse and fix it to now make the cake at home. Lakshmi spearheads the initiative to make it special for her younger brother. There's also a surprise gift - a "Happy Birthday Chintu" chart, handmade. Hope instills.
BOOM, a bomb blast outside Madan's house change the birthday household's atmosphere. Two American soldiers Reed (Nate Scholz) and Jackson (Reginald L. Barnes) come to check the house after the blasts. What follows next is a stark social commentary. The family is horror-struck. Madan is met with harsh treatment from the soldiers. Lakshmi's cake is burnt in the oven, her chart torn by the soldiers while ransacking the house. The presence of a resistant Mahdi and finding some DVDs based on terrorist camps at their house spells doom as Madan is being mistaken as a terrorist.
But all this while the movie doesn't deter from its central subject, Chintu's birthday.
Writer-director duo Satyanshu Singh and Devanshu Kumar’s debut feature film has a big heart and draws strong performance from each actor. Singh & Kumar keep the tension tight. Despite the bombings, misfortunes, intruding soldiers, there is no character in the film which is negative. Even where the circumstances act as a villain. Skim through the surface and you will find more to this innocent film about a Bihari family stuck in Iraq, just trying to celebrate their six-year old’s birthday. Credit goes to the director-writer duo, who lay emphasis on a simple principle - nothing is too small or too inconsequential in this world.
A guilt-ridden, probably the nicest man around, Vinay Pathak shines. From him, there's light at the end of each tunnel, and his kindness & earnest lookout to make things work for Chintu's birthday will leave you with a teary-eyed smile. Tillotama Shome is the mother we all know - courageous and calm, braving the storms for her child. Needless to say what a brilliant performer she is. There is a scene at the beginning where she sings a Bihari song which she used to sing when Chintu was a new-born baby. That's Tillotama. Pitch perfect. Complemented by an endearing and frustrating Seema Phawa as a grandmother who is at constant bickering with Madan to take the family back to India. Bisha as the elder sister has a lesser screen space but she is the calm to Chintu's storms. Tender, delightful and joyful performance. And Vedant, the beloving Chintu, who could light up any room with his innocence. He owns the titular role, leaving you smiling from ear to ear.
Special mention to Chintu’s friends Waheed (Mehroos Ahmed Mir), a young Iraqi boy, cheering on American soldiers, shouting, “Go, go America! Yalla, Yalla!” as they chase one of his countrymen. Mahdi (Khalid Massou) as the landlord is a lovely casting, shedding light on the sad life of a man who dances and sings through the darkest of times.
Chintu Ka Birthday is simple. It doesn't dwell deep into the rights and wrongs, good and bad, war, illegal immigration. Those are mere subplots. Satyanshu's and Devanshu Singh’s film lets you celebrate the little joys of life in the darkest of times. Towards the end, we have Chintu lying on his bed and looking up. Hopeful that this too shall pass, and by the time of his sister's birthday they will be in India. Back home. Seeking joy amidst all troubles sums up this birthday party.
Oh, and this one took almost a decade to come to fore makes it even special.
PeepingMoon gives 'Chintu Ka Birthday' 4 Moons