Chippa, a luminous debut by director Safdar Rahman, now streaming on Netflix is a film about tenderness in the middle of ambient despair. Set in the bylanes of Park Circus, Kolkata, Chippa is a restless, yet poignant lovesong to Kolkata — a city recently ravaged by a devastating storm. But like its cherubic, worldly protagonist, played by a brilliant Sunny Pawar, the city too soldiers on. Chippa is a film about an individual’s journey: a ten-year-old boy journeying through the night to decipher a letter left to him by his abandoned father, on his tenth birthday.
In a scene, Chippa, the protagonist stares outside at the rain-soaked city from the windshield of a yellow truck, tracing intangible patterns on a freshly painted road in the liquid yellow light from now blurry lamposts. A fleet of ships, banners unfurled darts across the wet landscape— now an artistic canvass housing his soaring imagination. Like a kaleidoscope changing patterns, Chippa gazes outside from the side-window, almost as if to secure himself in the reality of his imagination. An approaching cycle then slices through his dissolving make-believe ships, as the camera rests for a second on abandoned canisters of paint. To Rahman’s credit, like in this scene and in several others, at no point does the framing get indulgent; he always maintains a steady gaze on Chippa’s worldliness, while effectively combining it with his innocence. Chippa isn’t sentimental, or lonely— he is just a ten-year-old boy making the most of what these streets have to offer.
It is a film about a tender transference as the masterful camerawork shines a much-needed light on the underbelly of the city— the streets and its people that come alive at night as different languages and regionally inflected patois seamlessly blend with one another. Rahman explores an aspect of Kolkata rarely explored in contemporary Bengali cinema— that of its diverse working-class communities without venturing into that tricky space of fetishizing these communities.
Above all is the film’s rich presentation of multiply fractured, textured lives; a motley cast of brilliant actors bring to life the throbbing nighttime pulse of a city built on their dashed dreams and unfulfilled longings. The affable policeman who saves Chippa from being beaten up, the taxi driver with a garden on the roof of his car who takes him along for a ride, the tea-seller with his heartbreaking story and the drunkard with whom he has a philosophical conversation— all of them demonstrate inherent goodness. The visual grammar of the film embodies this context: it is not a film feeding off stock images of plush South Calcutta neighbourhoods and Victoria Memorial.
It makes sense that Chippa is in pursuit of a forgotten language, as he traipses through a city where nobody seems to decipher the letter his father left him — an indecipherable letter in a language that now rests on the palimpsest of its violent history. The moment of truth when it arrives is also indecipherable. On another level, Chippa is also in pursuit of a home where daily slights can be translated as acts of love and when he does find that home, home is nothing like what he had imagined as it is with most things in our present moment. It is also about the recuperative alchemy that lies between the realm of the possible and the impossible: Chippa, the ten-year-old boy with magic in his eyes sees things that the adults do not. He also doubles up as an adult when the situation demands.
Dreams, after all, can be a great leveller, as unequal lives are patiently stitched and myriad failings jettisoned at the altar of a larger than life possibility. Chippa demonstrates how a life of dreams can be wrought through a life of nomadism. I hope more people will see this beautiful film now.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.