The only Bengali films kids of our generation grew up watching were made decades before we were born – films that were handed down less as summer vacation pastimes, more as heirlooms.
Yes, Satyajit Ray films, in an average Bengali home, were not meant to distract you from the odd cricket match on a corrosive summer afternoon – those were things you keep for posterity.
However, Ray’s iconic status everywhere in Bengal – from drawing rooms to the Writers’ – was not the only reason why the only Bengali films we watched were the same our parents grew up watching. Actually, there was nothing else being made in the ’90s through early 2000, that could be tolerated for more than 1o minutes at a stretch.
Popular Bengali films for close to three decades were stuff lunch-break jokes were made of and were benchmarks for all things gross – like ‘the math exam was as bad as XYZ film’ made around then. No respectable theatre in Kolkata showed them, the ones that did were routinely shunned by the educated in the city. At the cost of branding us all elitist, can we be blamed for not watching a film called Baba Keno Chakor – which, translated into English reads, Why is Dad a Servant?
One of the artists of a film industry custom-made for the Razzies was Haranath Chakraborty – who, among others, famously directed a film called Sasurbadi Jindabad. Which translated to English would probably read Hurray for the In-Laws, or something similarly insane. He, with a few others, had dutifully shouldered the responsibility of making popular Bengali films look so sad, that a Doordarshan news broadcast seemed more entertaining in comparison. This man also heads a committee which, it now seems, has a lot of say about which film gets to release in Bengal.
After the CPM was overthrown, Mamata Banerjee decided to do away with the stiff, art-house upper lip that film bodies in the government, had developed. In rushed the other Bengal – the Bengal of the masses. And we all got fuzzy praising Didi’s skill at bringing down walls.
However, by that time, quite unrelated to Mamata Banerjee‘s designs of poriborton, the Bengali film industry itself was going through massive, promising changes. With enterprising producers, young filmmakers and films that spoke to more than just item-dance seekers, Bengali film industry had got its touch back with the Bengali audience – who were returning to the theatre in hordes.
One of the several craftsmen of that movement was Suman Mukhopadhyay, whose film, Kangal Malsat, a scathing political satire, is now being denied a certification on grounds that it pokes fun at the government and Mamata.
Also because, now hold your breath, it might hurt ‘Stalinists’! Some one tell them, that is easier to find a dodo than find a ‘Stalinist’ around here?
A committee headed by Chakraborty suggested the foul language of the film be scrapped and the political innuendos be toned down – Mukhopadhyay, understandably, refused to do either.
One just hopes that the behemoths of the Bengali film industry, the big stars, the big producers, who have turned Mamata-worship into a vocation of sorts, will sit up and take notice. For the longest time, the film industry bled because there were bad films being made with shoestring budgets that didn’t pay either artists or technicians.
It was an industry of disasters – a model for what-not-to-do’s in film-making. It rode on the backs of directors like Mukhopadhyay and several others to come to what it is today. Also, it feeds a lot of people in Bengal – Mamata’s same people of the soil.
With ridiculous sanctions like these, it is only set to roll back to stone age – where the only Bengali films we were left watching were about fathers part-timing as servants and in-law worship. Mamata partially rode on Tollywood to tap on her electorate, it’s high time the movie makers realise that and take a break from nauseating Didi-paeans.