Anik Dutta's Bhobishyoter Bhoot pulled from Kolkata theatres; but by whom, and why, remain a mystery
In bhadralok Bengal, the disappearance of Bhobishyoter Bhoot has been done without any unseemly hungama. This disappearance comes with no finger prints.
Classic detective stories have been quite the rage in Bengal films. But even ace sleuth Byomkesh Bakshi might be dumbfounded by the Case of the Disappearing Film.
To make it spookier, it’s a film about ghosts.
Bhobishyoter Bhoot is a political satire from Anik Dutta, the director of the 2012 bumper hit Bhooter Bhabishyat.
The 2012 film was about a group of ghosts rendered homeless by rapacious building promoters. The new film, pointedly not a sequel, takes ghostly potshots at politicians of all shades.
And that seems to have had the powers-that-be seeing red. Well, nothing is in black and white, but the film was summarily pulled from theatres almost as soon as it released.
“I did not expect this. There was no explanation. No one told me why the film was being taken off,” filmmaker Anik Dutta told The Telegraph. Sources at INOX say the police had asked for all shows to be “halted immediately” saying the content could “instigate people”. No one is sure what is the issue here, especially with a film that has already cleared the Central Board of Film Certification. The film’s producer told Firstpost that a day before its release, the Kolkata police did ask for a pre-release review which the filmmakers turned down saying they had no authority to do so. The film — released U/A without any cuts — has now disappeared from Kolkata.
Officially, there has been no statement from the Kolkata police. Indranil Sen — Minister of State for Information & Cultural Affairs and Tourism — claimed he had no idea what had happened, thus setting the stage for the perfect mystery.
Over 16-17 February, a protest was organised in Kolkata on behalf of Bhobishyoter Bhoot. Actor Joyraj Bhattacharjee, who helped organise the protest, posted on social media that “three black vans, four jeeps, two Rapid Action Force (RAF) companies are deployed by the West Bengal government to control the dissenting protesters”. Scroll reports that protesters held up placards ascribing the events to Mamata Banerjee, Bengal’s Didi: “Aamar Didi shilpi didi, Aamaar Didi kobi, police diye bondho koren notun Bangla chhobi” (My Didi is an artiste, my Didi is a poet. She uses the police to shut down a new Bengali film).
The fact is, Mamata Banerjee has said nothing and neither have the film’s producers claimed she ordered any action against Bhobishyoter Bhoot. But it is also a fact that Anik Dutta ruffled feathers at the Kolkata International Film Festival 2018, with his comments on the chief minister’s picture being plastered everywhere around the venue: “If someone comes to Nandan (the theatre where KIFF was being hosted) today, he or she might think there is only one person who makes films here!”
“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,” the film’s producer Kalyanmoy Chatterjee told Firstpost. Anik Dutta, however, has said that the film faced many challenges even while it was being made, with technicians being pressured to quit the project.
Dutta’s straight talk surely would not have gone unnoticed in a city where the Tollywood brigade normally lays out the red carpet for the chief minister.
Now, apart from a few notable exceptions like actor Koushik Sen, the film fraternity has stayed largely quiet about the missing film. Many well-known actors are MPs and MLAs for the ruling party.
This is not the sole occasion when freedom of expression has taken a hit in recent times in Bengal. In 2012, Mamata Banerjee faced flak when a Jadavpur University professor was arrested and jailed for one night for forwarding a cartoon that used a beloved Satyajit Ray film to poke fun at her and an associate (Mukul Roy, who has now joined the BJP). The Calcutta High Court later ordered the government pay the professor Rs 25,000 for legal expenses as well as an additional Rs 50,000 as decreed by the state Human Rights Commission.
The irony is, over December 2017-January 2018, when the Padmaavat controversy was at its peak, Bengal — led by Mamata Banerjee — was vocal about the sanctity of freedom of expression. At that time Banerjee had said, “Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh have to maintain law and order. It is their duty. They can talk to them, they can convince them if anybody is around (to create trouble). I will be happy if the film Padmaavat is screened here. Peace prevails in our state.”
Barely a year later, it seems freedom of expression — unlike charity — does not begin at home for our politicians. As columnist Indrajit Hazra has noted, if nothing, this proves “supernatural activities, quite clearly, are not confined to the bad lands of ‘Hindustan’. It seems that they walk and float among the proudly liberal and fiercely rational human population of Kolkata as well.”
There is one telling difference though. In Padmaavat’s case, we knew who wanted the film gone. They were out there openly protesting, vandalising film sets, issuing threats to Deepika Padukone’s nose. In bhadralok Bengal, the disappearance of Bhobishyoter Bhoot has been done without any such unseemly hungama. This disappearance comes with no finger prints.
It might almost have been done by… ghosts.
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