'Chintu Ka Birthday' review: A moving tale of family, war
On paper, the story of a Bihari family stranded in Iraq during the turbulent era of Saddam Hussein's downfall, trying to celebrate their son's birthday, sounds too ambitious. But fortunately, directors Devanshu and Satyanshu Singh do a fine job of bringing the courageous story to life, making Chintu Ka Birthday a moving tale of family and war. Here's our review.
Baghdad, bombings, and a birthday
Set in Baghdad, 2004, the movie focuses on the Tiwari family. The father Madan Tiwari, played by the effervescent Vinay Pathak, wants to celebrate his son Chintu's sixth birthday with pomp and show. Since the little one's school was bombed on his special day, just as he was getting ready, Madan takes it on himself to uplift Chintu's mood. Full marks for intent.
The troubled family is determined to make Chintu smile
In this quest, Madan is joined by other family members — his wife Sudha (Tillotama Shome), Chintu's grandmother (Seema Pahwa), and sister (Bisha Chaturvedi). Since bakeries are shut, the family decides to bake a cake at home. Not only this, but Chintu also gets a collection of DVDs of Iraqi training camps as a birthday present from his best friend Majeed, a local.
A knock on door throws their plans under the bus
The birthday party is spoiled when two US soldiers barge into their house, suspecting them of insurgency. Soon, the celebration, which symbolizes Tiwaris' desperation to find happiness in the backdrop of tragedy, stares at oblivion. But the family doesn't give up and continue with the plan despite the presence of unwanted guests. It is in these moments that the movie lights up.
Divided by countries, united by tragedy
Everyone in this story is inevitably attached to tragedy: The gun-carrying American soldiers, stuck in a foreign land with blood on their hands. The Indians longing for their homeland. And the Iraqi facing the wrath of ruthless leaders, first their own, then foreign ones.
The storytelling is heartfelt and affecting
But despite so much pain and suffering around, the film doesn't really demonize anyone but looks at them with sympathy. It makes you observe their plight, dilemmas, and predicament, and not hate them for their decisions or mistakes. Chintu Ka Birthday thus becomes an affecting tale of an ill-fated family trying to find their peace and happiness, in the middle of destruction.
It's a modest take, but with a huge heart
The approach here is modest: There aren't any extravagant war scenes. Even the US invasion of Iraq is explained through a cute animation. But what this film boasts of is its huge heart: Two Americans, one Indian family, their supportive Muslim landlord, and two Iraqi kids prove just enough to touch your heart with their undying love and care for their fellow beings.
Vinay Pathak puts a soulful performance
While everyone present at Chintu's atypical birthday party is a sight to behold, Vinay Pathak as Madan Tiwari takes the cake. Madan is the sort of person who would bring first-aid for the American soldier after taking a beating from him. He also appreciates that the soldier has a "government job". He's helplessly middle-class and caring. Pathak brings out the hero in Madan.
To watch or not to watch?
Chintu Ka Birthday is neither too optimistic nor impractically so. It remains within certain limits and offers just a whiff of optimism, but that seems just enough to lift up one's spirits. Supported by a sincere screenplay and powerful performances, it's a delightful anti-war treat that re-affirms that if there's family by your side, you will be just fine. Final rating: 3.5/5 stars.