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‘Chippa’ goes to Edinburgh

by Uma da Cunha


Starring the infectious Sunny Pawar (‘Lion’) as the titular ‘Chippa’ the film is the debut work of director Safdar Rahman, who lives between Brussels, Kolkata, and Mumbai, and works alongside his Belgian wife, Celine Loop, an experienced film producer. The duo worked with Qaushik Mukherjee’s Oddjoint and now run their production company, Travelling Light. 

Chippa is a young runaway boy of the streets whom the film follows as he goes through one long, lonely night and vigil, wandering the streets, taking whatever adventures he has in his stride. His journey is set in motion by a mysterious letter by his long-absent father who Chippa now seeks. The film ends with an emotional twist but otherwise looks with detached observation upon this confident, self-sufficient little boy whose life is entirely in his own hands, and he has no qualms about that responsibility.

I had the privilege of hosting the world premiere of this film at the 2018 MAMI Film Festival in a section that I curate called Discovering India which presents films that are quintessentially about India but have a foreign hand, mainly the director or producer. 

A huge bonus for me was talking to Sunny Pawar and I learned that success in filmdom is something he looks at with adult wisdom and not adulation. Sunny is absolutely sure even at age 10 that he wants to be an actor. His training and experience have had a remarkable head-start. He was in the film ‘Lion’ with Nicole Kidman and Dev Patel (his eyes light up for a second saying the name). What strikes one about this remarkable young child is that he is deadpan about everything. He remains unfazed and unimpressed with the career that has come his way. This, even while studying in a suburban Mumbai school and doing things that are completely beyond the reach of others in his class. He acts intuitively, without examining his role or its nuances. He never questions his performances – he is happy with what he has done and just moves on. Sure enough, Pawar recently picked up two Best Child Actor awards this May, at the DFW South Asian Film Festival, Dallas, USA and then at the New York Indian Film Festival.

The director, Safdar Rahman explained how in his native Kolkata, young boys drifting dusk to dawn through its streets is a familiar sight. Asked why in his film the small boy met only kind and concerned people, Rahman said that this was largely his experience with people – that kindliness towards children is an inbred instinct.

‘Chippa’ followed its confident, encouraging start at MAMI with North American festival screenings in 2019 at the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles, followed by Zlin Film Festival for Children in the Czech Republic. It will now screen at the Edinburgh International Film Festival (June 19 - 30) alongside two other Indian festival favourites, the indomitable Rima Das’s ‘Bulbul Can Sing’ which premiered at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival, and Ritesh Batra’s ‘Photograph’ which screened at the 2019 Sundance Festival.