Writer, Director: Safdar Rahman
Cast: Sunny Pawar
Producer: Celine Loop, Sushil Kumar Agrawal, Rajat Agrawal, AVT Shankardas
Streaming Platform: Netflix
Watching Chippa I kept thinking how a child would like their story told. As adults, we seem to have privileged narrative and flow. Stochastic narrations with bursts of unrelated beauty are rare today. (I am thinking of the sudden gaming animation sequence in a gritty film like Aaranya Kaandam which struck most critics as odd) A Mahaharata or a One Thousand And One Nights perhaps wouldn’t work if it were written and judged by these standards. When did our enamoured gaze towards Sheherzade rot and streamline?
Chippa felt like an odd descendant of that format of storytelling, and I couldn’t help but wonder if this format, distracted as it moves from one unrelated story to another, with a broad narrative arc, mirrors how a child thinks- the ephemeral attention spans, that is still rooted to certain ideas they are exposed to, and enamoured by. For example, when the ten-year old Chippa (Sunny Pawar whose charm seems to have only multiplied since LION) , who found a companion in a roadside puppy Pippa, finds a dangling letter from the letterbox with a postage stamp of the Eiffel Tower, the movie morphs into animation, of Chippa receiving a letter from his French pen-pal about coffee and Paris and old men reading newspapers citing the death of a Kazakh President. Now, you can ask how this ties into the story. But the truth is, it doesn’t. And perhaps, it wasn’t meant to.
Chippa lives on the roadside in Kolkata with his aunt- his father left willingly for another woman, and his mother left unwillingly, dead. On the eve of his tenth birthday he is given a letter in Urdu, a language he and most people around him can’t read. He decides to escape that night with the letter, trying to find freedom and the letter’s meaning, and the film follows him, the odd distracted reverie filled with kind people and kind gestures. The moment Chippa escapes from the roadside, a guitar string strums with hope (Cyrillede Haes did the music), and you know that this is not a film about the despair and disrepair of poverty, though of course that is always present.
He struts around the city taking lifts in the car of a taxi-driver, the bike of a policeman, the van of postage collectors, and his own dainty legs. He always has a bag on his back which is unzipped, but he never has the looming fear I did of things falling out of it, (Perhaps there is not much in the bag to lose, perhaps the zip doesn’t exist, perhaps the bag is just meant to be his pillow after a weary day as a vagabond) he keeps leaving his wallet wherever, as though he is not used to the reality of possession- one that demands preserving, saving, and caution from loot.
Now, narratively speaking there is a lot of coincidence in this film, the last of which is a bit of a soft tug at the heart. But just like how in Spanish new-wave-maven Pedro Almodovar’s films, you never question the radical coincidence because the universe is so quirky and unreal and you have bought into it, here too the universe is so kind and awe-inspired that you don’t question things, as long as Chippa and Pippa are happy.
His night takes him across the city, and with every adult he meets his dreams change. When he meets the taxidriver, he tells him that is who he wants to become. And when he meets a policeman, that is who he wants to become, and when he meets an alcoholic rich man in a luxurious car, that is who he wants to become. This is a mind that glides into new territories with new knowledge, with little fear. Like a child discovering the world, he wants to be everything he sees. Part of me wanted to meet him a decade later to see how he has acclimated, and part of me would never wish the stratified process of growing up on his mind. I only wish for him, the best.