National Award-winning writer-director duo Satyanshu and Devanshu Singh make your heart melt with a poignant family drama set in 2004 the backdrop of Iraq and show us the kind of sacrifices a father can make for his child, just to give him the day he wants to celebrate the most, his birthday.
“All great stories are stories of exaggeration,” a statement by Satyanshu Singh in one of his first draft sessions. He went on to explain that it is okay to exaggerate because film is a medium, in which if one gets realistic, that film would be flat in its arc. This statement could not be any truer for his first feature film, Chintu Ka Birthday.
During American invasion in Iraq, where Saddam was captured and executed, Indian families all across Iraq was said to be moved out of the war zone, in spite of that not being true. The Tiwarys are stranded in Baghdad, thanks to Madan’s (Vinay Pathak) naïve error, that gives rise to this backdrop which at first, sounds like a story of disbelief.
All Chintu (Vedant Chibber) wants is to celebrate his 6th birthday since none of his birthdays were ever celebrated, due to the unrest in Iraq. However, this time, his father has it all covered, the toffees, the cake, the décor, everything. He is aided by the rest of his family, which includes his wife Sudha Tiwary (Tillotama Shome), his elder daughter Lakshmi (Bisha Chaturvedi), and mother in law, who is addressed as Nani (Seema Pahwa).
The film begins with a normal day in an Indian family, where the mother is getting her son ready for school, just today it’s his birthday. The father is hyping him up about how amazing his birthday party is going to be and how before he leaves for school, he shouldn’t forget to take blessings from his elders. It doesn’t seem that this Indian family I stranded in Iraq, since the normalcy that they achieve just questions the authenticity of the milieu. However, that’s a conscious choice made by the writers, before establishing their life stories.
A good film should be a balance between exposition and taking the narrative forward, and the filmmakers do just that from the very beginning. They show the backstory of the family through a voiceover of the 6-year-old Chintu, which translates to animation, or rather cartoon on the screen, which is a joy to watch. Another beautiful thing it does it that it makes you believe in the reality, which started off as a dream considering the two ends never met at first thought.
This is a writer’s film. The writer duo has made sure that they link everything to their apparent biases and treat it in a way that it grabs empathy for all characters and not just the lead cast. The stereotypes a family from small towns in India could have, the usage of the term “snake” very often within a narrative, the power dynamics established by American soldiers etc.
The film uses some great metaphors that speak volumes through a situation that would be very ordinary, had it happened in our homes, another great use of situational conflicts. Seeing the cake burn, the optimistic Vinay Pathak keeps the house going by saying, “kuch na kuch toh ho hi jayega”, to which his elder daughter replies, “ab kya hi hoga papa”. These sudden spurts of emotional distress just elevate in the viewer’s mind who is taken on this roller coaster journey with the characters and is rooting for them.
Another thing that the filmmakers consciously choose is staying within the one location, that is the house and unfolding the layers of conflict and character arcs within those four walls. It is almost like an insider’s view on the outside which is hauntingly beautiful to watch. There are almost 2 stories going on at all times, one within the house, and one outside, in Baghdad. Both these stories are stark opposite, though somehow connected, as the actions on the “outside”, result in the consequences on the “inside”.
This meticulously crafted screenplay is elevated with the cast that act in it, where there is not even one weak link. Pathak and Shome radiate their innocence of being doting parents with great ease and bring about an “aww” reaction while saving the day apple of their eyes, Chintu. Chibber’s casting as the Chintu deserves a big round of applause, who, without even having a dialogue speaks volumes and can light up a room that has no electricity.
Chintu Ka Birthday, that won the Viewer’s Choice Award at the recently concluded Jagran Film Festival, is a small film about an ordinary family that is living, surprisingly happily, in an extraordinary situation. The film flashes by in a blink of an eye, making the audience want more. With the end, that brings a smile to your face and satisfaction in your heart, makes you rethink what Satyanshu Singh said out loud about exaggeration, which is what he has heavily relied on while making this film, but convincing you enough that this could happen.