Anik Dutta's Bengali film Bhobishyoter Bhoot pulled from theatres in West Bengal despite U/A certificate
Bhobishyoter Bhoot was banned after alleged threats from the police, who feared that the satire might lead to political and communal tension in West Bengal.
Filmmaker Anik Dutta’s new film Bhobishyoter Bhoot has been thrown out of theatres on Saturday, after alleged threats from the police, who feared that the self-described ‘fun-filled social and political satire’ might lead to political and communal tension in the state of West Bengal. The entire Bengali film industry has come out to register their protest against what they are describing as a rampant and shameful blow to the freedom of expression in the state. In a conversation with director Anik Dutta, Firstpost had received hints of impending trouble one day prior to the release of the film, although Dutta himself declined to comment on what the possible reason for such mischief could be.
Interestingly, Dutta has always been known to call a spade a spade. In 2018, for instance, at the Kolkata International Film Festival (KIFF), he had openly criticised the administration for the use of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s images in the festival’s promotions, going on to question the politicisation of cinema — and of the arts in general — in West Bengal and the rest of the country. Although industry sources see the ban on Dutta’s film as a direct outcome of this incident, the producer of the film, Kalyanmoy Chatterjee, does not feel that the two incidents are related. “It’s a fun-filled film," Chatterjee said to Firstpost. “It’s a satirical take on current times, and the film makes fun of everyone – even its own makers. I don’t think this weekend’s ban is an outcome of Anik’s comments during the KIFF last year, although for the life of me, I can’t understand why anyone could have a problem with the film per se — that too without watching it.” Incidentally, the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) has watched the film and permitted it to be released with a U/A certificate, without demanding any cuts whatsoever.
Politicisation of the arts has always been an issue in our country. Last year, filmmaker Ranjan Ghosh’s film had to bear the brunt of it when religious fringe groups protested against the use of the names ‘Ram’ and ‘Sita’ for a fictional couple who sought a divorce in his film. In more recent times, filmmaker Srijit Mukherji’s upcoming film Gumnami Baba — about a man who may or may not have been Subhas Chandra Bose in hiding — received unprecedented backlash in social media, even before work on it had hardly begun. Such incidents are in direct violation of the message of tolerance and artistic ethics that we, as a nation, have always preached.
In Dutta’s case, the violation seems to be even more direct. The producer of the film claims that he received a letter from the Intelligence Department of Kolkata Police, who expressed their concern regarding the content of the film, and had asked for a pre-release preview. When Chatterjee refused, on the grounds that there was only one institution in the sovereign nation of India who has the authority to make such a demand, the police backed off. On Saturday, audiences gathered at the theatres were shocked to learn that all current and future shows of the film had been cancelled owing to technical reasons. This happened concurrently across the city. As more and more reports of shows being cancelled started to pour in, the message became clear.
Some intellectuals are considering the move as a naive one – one without fear of a backlash or accountability, even from a political standpoint. Public sentiment in support of the film has only increased, thanks to the ban, although the future of the theatrical release of the film does look bleak. But both the director and the producer of the film remain calm and fearless in their response to the situation. “It’s sad, no doubt," Chatterjee remarks. “We would have loved the audiences to watch the film. But they will, for sure. In the age of internet, it is difficult to keep a good work of art out of public view. We are keeping our hopes high.”
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