Picturing the political landscape

Bengali film industry never shies away to take a political stance, but it comes with a price

A land ruled by a greedy and brutal king sees the light of the day when two humble men (and not heroes, mind you!) comes into rescue. The corrupt, famine-stricken rural land needs ‘magic’ — which these two men, Goopy and Bagha, possess. They use this to free the land from the hands of the oppressor.

Well, this was the plot of Satyajit Ray’s Goopy Gaine, Bagha Byne (1969). It is one of his best known satires, with a political undertone and use of metaphor to depict the harsh truth of our society.

Ray wasn’t the only Bengali filmmaker who highlighted political issues in and around the state at that period. Be it in Mrinal Sen’s Interview (1970), or Ritwick Ghatak’s Komal Gandhar (1961) – time and again, Bengal’s political scenario became the subject matter of such realist films.

And even today, Bengali film industry never shies away to take a political stance. Just about recently – ahead of the West Bengal Assembly elections – a host of well-known and critically acclaimed celebrities like Sabyasachi , Parambrata Chatterjee, Anirban Bhattacharya, Kaushik Sen, among others appear in “Nijeder Mawte, Nijeder Gaan” (Our Will, Our Song).

The anti-fascist music video is more of a call to the people of Bengal to not vote for BJP. And this message is not subtle, but on the face. These celebrities are the ones who have always had their political stance loud and clear.

Such a scenario is just the opposite of what’s been frequented in Bollywood. Let alone taking stands, the Hindi film industry has often kept mum or gone the ‘apolitical’ way. But more often, have endorsed or shown their support – in a subtle manner – to the ruling party; but that too, never spoken about it in the open. It’s all a hush-hush affair.

Again, comparing these two film industries won’t be right. Each has its own ‘rules’ that they play by.

Coming back to the Bengal’s political scenario and its nexus with the film industry in the state, one cannot deny that in the last few years – the parties have seen host of celebs joining parties. The list of name is a long, long one indeed.

But that’s a topic of discussion best left for political columns! Here, what we are talking about is how the Bengali cinema and the artists have always been vocal about their affiliations. Like mentioned earlier, the stalwarts from the 70s bravely lighted the beacon, and passed it on to the filmmakers who preceded them.

Politics being a sensitive topic for makers and actors to be involved with in the films they did, has often been sidetracked. But very few had the courage to pursue it. Late Rituparno Ghosh, though known primarily for her brilliance in the portrayal of the complexities of human relations and emotions, also made films like Dahan (1997) – which spoke about the ugly truths of an urban society.

In this regard, it won’t be justified if we don’t mention filmmaker Anik Dutta. He is someone who has time and again challenged the status quo and questioned the wrongdoings of the ruling party with his films like Aschorjo Prodip, Meghnadbod Rohoshyo, among others.

In 2019, Dutta’s film Bhobishyoter Bhoot,  created waves of controversy owing to its depiction of politics in Bengal and bashing the ruling party in the state using satire. This, as we have seen, did not go down well with the authority and his film was taken down from theatres – all of a sudden. Even protests and rallies were taken out by Dutta — attended by late Soumitra Chatterjee, filmmaker Buddhadeb Dasgupta, actor-director Aparna Sen, among other prominent faces of the Bengali film fraternity.

The film never saw the light of the day in theatres again. Probably a heavy price filmmaker Anik Dutta had to pay to incite “public sentiments” – as the letter from the Kolkata Police’s intelligence branch requesting a private screening of the film to the producers mentioned.

Late Soumitro Chatterjee – the legend, whose recent demise left Bengal bruised, was a political activist, though he never contested election. His biopic, Abhijaan (where he played himself, and the younger self was played by well-known Bengali actor Jisshu Sengupta) is about to release this year – takes us in a journey through the stalwart’s life. In the trailer, we see Chatterjee saying (recreated from a speech from his early days): “Despite not being intimately involved in politics, it is not hard to understand that we’re going through darker days.” And that’s probably my concluding thought too!

(Cover: The anti-fascist video Nijeder Motey, Nijeder Gaan (Our Will, Our Song) sees a host of Bengali celebrities coming together)

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