Two Wheels and a Dream
Cyclist Chandan Biswas finds peace on a bicycle
Ordinary people are often capable of extraordinary achievements. But we are not aware of them or their achievements because they are “ordinary”, according to our understanding of the word. They are not political celebrities who make it to the headlines every day. They are not film stars who are followed by paparazzi. It is only when some imaginative producer decides to record an achievement through a documentary that we learn about their journey.
Chandan Biswas is one such “ordinary” man.
The film “Charaiveti”, recently screened at the 27th Kolkata International Film Festival, is directed by Chandan Biswas , Bauddhayan Mukherji and produced by his wife, filmmaker Monalisa Mukherji. “Charaiveti is an inward journey of a man discovering and conquering his fears and living to tell the tale. The film is also a journey into realizing that records are not what an adventurer’s journeys are about,” said Mukherji.
Chandan Biswas was addicted to undertaking solo journeys on his bicycle. He rode to Dhaka in 2012, and reached there on World Language Day on February 21. “I noticed through my ventures that very few Indians were fond of mountain biking. Most of the adventurers were foreigners. I wished to reverse this trend and organised a group cycling expedition to Dhaka, again reaching on February 21. This trip enthused me to venture into the first ever Trans-Himalayan expedition on a bicycle,” narrates Chandan. He began preparations in 2016 for the journey, not knowing how he would make it without much funding to back his venture. He is also addicted to photography so was easily convinced to handle the camera himself for the long journey.
In February 2017, Chandan, a resident of Barasat, West Bengal set off on his bicycle on an arduous journey of 153 days, traversing 6249 kms, criss-crossing four countries to become the first man to complete the Trans-Himalayan expedition on a bicycle.
Mukherji, of Little Lamb Films, said, “Charaiveti is a point-of-view, a personal diary about Chandan’s desire to create a new record. For a man who is otherwise afraid of wolves, scared of waterfalls, wary of landslides, and seeks tea at every nook and corner, “Charaiveti” is not a film about a super hero adventurer.
It is an inward journey of a man discovering and conquering his fears and living to tell the tale.” Mukherji says that he discovered Chandan who was a long-time friend of his wife, Monalisa who has produced the film. The minute they met, Mukherji was hooked and decided to make a film on the journey.
“When Chandan approached us with the proposal of making a film on his impending journey, we immediately said yes. Both Mona and I believed in him and found it extremely challenging to take up the offer. We are not documentary filmmakers and to top it all we weren't even shooting the footage. But we took the plunge. We wanted the world to know about this incredible man's equally incredible journey.”
Though the Mukherji couple did not, and possibly could not, go along with Chandan even for part of the journey, Mukherji says, “Chandan met us towards the end of 2016. He shot his journey in 2017 and came back with a footage of 52 hours. Thus began the humongous effort of trying to put everything together in a meaningful way. Editor Abhro Banerjee was the man who did the impossible.
He worked on it painstakingly for more than two long years. Then the lockdown hit us. The entire post production process took a huge beating. But I have to doff my hat to Abhijit (Tenny) Roy - the sound designer and Rajanarayan Deb - the music director. They just kept at it. Finally, we managed to finish the film in September 2021 – four struggling years after Chandan's expedition ended.”
Chandan himself narrated the journey and also filmed it, according to Mukherji, “with the GoPro Hero IV. It was an initial version of the GoPro series which wasn't even water proof and needed a separate casing to take underwater shots. Even the sound capture was not really up to the mark. But he managed.
He also shot some parts on a Lenovo mobile phone. We could not afford to send anyone with him. He went alone. He fixed the camera to his helmet and shot everything himself.”
As a result, you do not get to see Chandan’s face but can only hear his voice giving a running commentary on everything he encounters over the journey. He meets old friends, such as the gentleman in Dhaka who specialises in tour events, and another biker along the way, they go together for a bit then part to go their own ways. He films all his interactions with the locals of the places he visits.
Rajanarayan Deb’s soft music on the soundtrack never intrudes into the subject or the narration and enriches the visuals. Abhro Banerjee must have had a nerve-wracking job to put the shots together while editing, to make sense out of the cinematography. Mukherji’s idea to map the places Chandan cycled through and to was wonderful, both as an editing device as well as an informative cutting intos.
Chandan narrates how he prepared for 11 months, researching every part of the journey he was going to venture on, through four countries over two months, so that he knew what he was letting himself into. “I learned about the topography and the maps of these places but also about the local languages, the food they eat, clothes they wear, their lifestyle and so on. This helped me a lot over the long journey,” he says.
He started from Hridaypur in Barasat. Crossed over to Bangladesh through the Petrapole border. Travelled through Khulna, Dhaka and entered India through the Akhaura border. In India he travelled through Tripura, Assam, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya before coming back to North Bengal. He tried to enter Bhutan but was stopped because those days the King had prohibited cycling in his kingdom. But he did go to Bhutan on foot, parking his cycle at the Jaigaon police station.
He then travelled through Sikkim and entered Nepal through Kakarvitta. He cycled in Nepal for 23 days before coming back to India through Uttarakhand. Then he cycled through Himachal Pradesh and ended his journey at the Nubra Valley in Ladakh.
He narrates the journey in Bangla, and the visuals he filmed are very good, especially when he passes through dangerous terrains, from Tripura to Assam, Assam to Nagaland and then, back to Assam.
This long documentary explores the highs and lows, metaphorically, physically and socially. Chandan embarks on the arduous journey, with little money in his pocket. He dreams of creating a record for the longest solo bicycle journey to the highest motorable road in the country, and second highest in the world. He has courage in his heart, and determination to win in his mind.
THe bicycle broke down in the oddest of places and repairs wasted travel time, but these were occupational hazards that Chandan was prepared to meet. The best part of the film is that not once do we find Chandan losing hope, or getting angry, with himself or with someone else or with his destiny, or getting depressed. This positive attitude perhaps defines the reason for his triumph.
However, he says that by the time he came to the end of the journey, the idea of setting a record was organically replaced by the richness of experience that the journey had given him which changed the very philosophy of his life forever. He says, “I think that I set out not in search of adventure but rather, in search of peace.” He allows the journey to move its own way and take him along as well.
“The film is also a journey into realizing that records are not what an adventurer’s journeys are about. It is much more and beyond. It is about the lost songs from childhood, of missing old friends, making new ones, that feeling of homesickness and the desire to return home to have mom’s fish curry,” Mukherji sums it up perfectly.
There will be many more adventure-cyclists perhaps making the same journey in future. But Chandan will remain the one to have ventured out first.