Famed visual artist Sanatan Dinda’s video installation on flyover collapse has turned controversial this election season. Its screening was stopped on the lawns of Academy of Fine Arts in Kolkata last week on the last day of the four-day event that was commemorating artist M F Hussain’s centennial year through the painter’s works.
The installation showed a ten minute musical video on the recent Vivekananda flyover collapse in Kolkata that took twenty five lives and injured many. The video was a collage of images depicting victims, survivors and the effect urbanization and development has on human life, which eventually ended with the plantation of a Pipal tree in a pot filled with the debris of the flyover. Although hard hitting, it certainly did not carry a political baggage for the general masses.
Yet, election times are crucial. Images and visuals matter to create perception. Or this is what the junior staffers affiliated to the labor union of the ruling party perceived. They called the police, and the police obliged by stalling the screening.
“This is serious political interference,” said Sanatan Dinda, who himself was the front runner during the left regime five years back asking for the “Pariborton” (change) that eventually led the downfall of the thirty five year old Left government.
“I had taken a political stand then and we had univocally spoken for the issues of common people. Intellectuals have a mind of their own and they will protest whenever they feel rights of people are infringed. Today my rights as an artist are violated. I cannot be guided by the police as to what I should draw or shoot or showcase”.
This is particularly true in the state of West Bengal, where the intellectual community have played a significant role in making political statements and taking political positions in the past. They together have effectively raised common man’s issues, have blatantly reasoned for taking political stand, sided with political leaders and have influenced the socio political situation in the state.
The last days of the Left rule had witnessed a surge amongst the artists and culture conscious people across the state on all politically charged issues. From sharing dais with the then firebrand opposition leader Mamata Banerjee during the Singurtwenty-five day “fast undo death” protests to national highway blockade at Singur; celebrities, artists, writers, had joined hands and raised issues of public interest vocally and unitedly.
Films, theatre, novels, painting, sculpting had been the aggressive tools to mobilize public opinion against government coercion leading to the massive uprising against the ruling Left Front government. The intellectual brigade had together voiced their opinion as the front runner of conscience keepers motivating aggressive people’s movement against government policies. From protest rallies to joining hands with political leaders to raising voice through artistic tools the intellectual community then had stood unfazed, united. Although there were a few who still endorsed the then Leftist government citing old friendships with the culture conscious “Bhoddrolok” (gentleman) chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya but still could not aggressively bat for him leading to the downfall of the thirty five year old Left citadel.
That was five years back. Today the united intellectual brigade stands divided deep within. Many of the artists who had stood with the Trinamool Congress and had vociferously propagated the call for the “Poriborton” (Change) are again up for yet another “Change”. But this time not all are on the same side. “Those not with us have unduly benefitted so they cannot join us”, says painter Dinda.
Noted Painter Jogen Chowdhury is now a Rajya Sabha MP of the Trinamool Congress; Bratya Basu, the poet and theatre personality is a minister; and Dev, the Tollywood heartthrob, a parliamentarian. Painter Sanatan Dindatoo was a member of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation’s expert committee team after the “Poriborton”. He happened to be a paid member to provide expert opinions for the betterment of the city. “I got disillusioned just after the first few meetings. They were mere occasions of a good Adda with friends. I am a professional and I believe my opinions matter. The committee remained just a show and policies are decided beforehand”, he defends his independence and the decision to shun the offer.
Suvaprassana, a noted artist happened to be a significant spokesperson for the Trinamool Congress in 2011. He is the founder of the Arts Acre Foundation, a high end integrated arts facility built on private public partnership in a sprawling campus in New town in Kolkata. With the unveiling of the Sarada scam and association of the artist with it that drew severe criticism, both the Trinamool Chief and the artist have maintained safe distance ever since and he maintains his disquiet thereafter. Arpita Ghosh, whose prominent play “PoshuKhamar’ that was stalled by the Left front government during one of its shows in Hoogly district in 2011, is now the member of parliament of TMC.
Shaoli Mitra was one of the artists who had strongly supported the “Parivarton” slogan in 2011, is nowhere to be seen today. In 2012 too quite a few from the intellectual community had opposed to quit railway committees that they were made members of when Mamata Banerjee’s party headed the railway ministry.
Noted actor director Aparna Sen, writer Mahasweta Devi too took clear positions batting vociferously for ‘Poriborton’ in 2011 against the Left regime although Devi had been an unabashed Left policy sympathizer for ages together. Others, like famous artist Samir Aich, withdrew from the all government posts after a spat with the chief minister Mamata Banerjee in 2013. Earlier also educationist like Sunada Sanyal who had pitch a “pro-pariborton” face of Mamata Banerjee quietly resigned from all government posts within couple of years of the change in Bengal.
Yet, today not many are raising voices together. Some noted faces did join the protest rally when Dinda’s event was stalled, leaving the “intellectual brigade divide’ wide in the open. To combat the onslaught few lesser known faces, she called a press conference showing solidarity towards the chief minister and vouching support for her. “The reason is that the divide had always existed. When I was jailed for sharing a cartoon not many stood by me. What is surprising now is that the torch bearers are not speaking the same language”, says Jadavpur university professor Ambikesh Mahapatra who was arrested in 2011 for sharing a cartoon of chief minister Mamata Banerjee on social media. Mahapatra is contesting the Behala East seat independently under the “Save Democracy” banner.
“This is because many people benefitted. Some directly some indirectly. Those who directly benefitted went to be ministers or parliamentarians in the Trinamool regime. They would not speak now anyways. What will they say?” questions Pallab Kirtaniya, a medico turned revolutionary singer and actor also the front runner during the “Poriborton” (Change) days. He now sits back grumpily asking for another change. He has sung songs and is propagating it on social media. He says, “Yes it is true. Filmstars, artists and other intellectuals have joined politics and are doing politics but I had not asked for this kind of change in 2011. I supported the intellectual community then because “Change” was needed. Today the leader has only changed and so are her supporters.Yet that does not deter me from voicing my opinion now”.
"Proshno Korona ta holeyeetumimaobadisantrashi, saathbochorer jail hobeaur teen diner fashi”, (Don’t question, or else you are Maobadi, extremist! You will get seven years jail and execution within three days), he sings out loud joining his voice to the protest against the ‘Pariborton' (change of 2011).