A Nice, Little Hostage Drama

Dibyajyoti Sarma
Saturday, 7 April 2018

As I read An Unfinished Revolution, I could imagine a European film producer already working on the project. The key ingredients are all there — an abducted Italian tourist (who also happens to be great family man), a misunderstood revolutionary (a role tailor-made for Irrfan Khan) and a heroic TV journalist (you could probably get Rajkummar Rao) who braved the hostile Odisha jungles for the sake of the story and ended up rescuing the great Italian family man. 

As I read An Unfinished Revolution, I could imagine a European film producer already working on the project. The key ingredients are all there — an abducted Italian tourist (who also happens to be great family man), a misunderstood revolutionary (a role tailor-made for Irrfan Khan) and a heroic TV journalist (you could probably get Rajkummar Rao) who braved the hostile Odisha jungles for the sake of the story and ended up rescuing the great Italian family man. 

The book itself offers great clues for an engaging screenplay, where two narratives (or five) could be intercut — the Italian’s love for India and its tribal people; his abduction by a Maoist faction in the interiors of Kandhamal, the home of the Kondhs and the hotbed of Naxalite activities; the journalist’s race to get the story first; the reaction of the family in Italy; government manoeuvrings; the Italian’s experience with the armed militants; the journalist’s foolhardy adventure to meet the militant leader, and finally, a happy ending, back in Rome. 

An Unfinished Revolution indeed tells a true story. On March 14, 2012, two Italian nationals, Paolo Bosusco and Claudio Colangelo, were taken hostage by the CPI (Maoists), led by Sabyasachi Panda, who had been involved in several militant activities since 1999. What followed was a dramatic month-long crisis in which a crew of television journalists engaged with the Maoist leader and facilitated the release of Claudio.

The author Kishalay Bhattacharjee led the TV crew and appears in the book in the form of first person narrative. Starting at medias res, on March 23, we get a breathless account of the TV crew’s journey into the deep forest to meet the militants. What Bhattacharjee describes is the stuff of adventures (though he tries his best to describe the reality of the situation, the state of the tribal villages and how the Maoists are using the locals to serve their agenda). 

Then we shift gear and confront Claudio, who narrates his own story, in first person. Claudio loves India. He loves photographing tribals, the reason, the Maoists said, he was abducted. 

Despite his best intentions, you realise, he is eroticising India (‘What I had seen only in books earlier was now right in front of me — tattooed faces of Kui Kondh women,’ he says), but we will let it slide, as he is the protagonist of this tale. Instead, we will focus on his troubles, like he is not getting a proper bath and, his grudging empathy for his captors.

Then we shift gear again and meet Elena Frova, Claudio’s son’s girlfriend who works in a TV station. Again told in first person, we get the details of the goings-on in Rome, post the kidnap, but not before Elena’s detailed account of her vacation with her boyfriend.

And suddenly, we return to Bhattacharjee’s reporter persona as he concludes the sordid tale and gives us a personal, ringside commentary on the socio-political cultural history of Kandhamal, the Kondhs and Maoist occupation. These last 50-odd pages of the book are the most interesting and illuminating and ironically, they are also the most extraneous to the narrative at hand. 

Bhattacharjee’s narrative of the kidnap drama is detailed and adequate, but as you finish the book you wonder what was it all about. Despite employing the gimmick of first-person narratives, the book, to my utter surprise, fails to find a cohesive centre. I was trying to find the answer, why this retelling now? How does it shed light on the still on-going Maoist issues? What is the unfinished revolution? I was surprised because Bhattacharjee has previously done two critically acclaimed books on similar subjects — Che in Paona Bazaar and Blood on My Hands. 
I believe the fault lies with the narrative technique employed. While we get first-hand accounts of the major players, we get close to nothing about the Maoist point-of-view. So apart from outside perspectives about how and why the local tribal youths, both men and women, are joining the militants, and how the militants are running their alternative government in the jungle, we don’t get to see them as flesh and blood characters, the way we get to see even a minor character like Elena three-dimensionally.  

Then again, the focus of the book, despite what the title says, is Claudio Colangelo’s kidnapping and eventual return, and in this, the book scores.

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