Bhobishyoter Bhoot pulled out of theatres: How Bengali cinema has always critiqued the politics of its times

Shreya Paul

Mar 12, 2019 13:51:41 IST

Bengal has always been in the hot seat of political upheaval. The state has had its (fair) share of political movements that have understandably shaped cinema. As the state steps into yet another literary chasm between the government and people, Anik Dutta’s Bhobishyoter Bhoot stands as a mouthpiece for artistes to retaliate.

Veterans like Soumitra Chatterjee, Aparna Sen, Buddhadeb Dasgupta and the like have taken to streets opposing the sudden removal of Anik Dutta’s satire from film theatres. The stance was taken by almost all Kolkata theatres within a day of the release of the film. Reason — employees were directed by “authorities” higher up.

Though Dutta maintains that Bhobishyoter Bhoot has no direct allusion to any political party, the film is a commentary on current political foibles. Having received a clearance certificate from the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), the film was unceremoniously taken down from theatres later.

Bhobishyoter Bhoot pulled out of theatres: How Bengali cinema has always critiqued the politics of its times

Poster of Bhobishyoter Bhoot

Considering Anik Dutta draws his inspiration from Bengal’s rich history of making strong statements through politically relevant films, it becomes imperative to draw focus on Mrinal Sen and Satyajit Ray’s bodies of work.  Not unknown to many, both these auteurs created sociopolitical masterpieces but in very different ways.

Calcutta 71, Mrinal Sen’s ode to a city grappling with existential crisis during the Naxal riots, is probably one of the most nuanced works on films that elevate to become reference points for global filmmakers. Being the third in the filmmaker’s Calcutta trilogy, this film was a direct and angry rebuttal to social injustice and oppression that was felt in the aftermath of far-left Naxalite movement.

Mrinal Sen (left) on the sets of Calcutta 71.

Mrinal Sen (left) on the sets of Calcutta 71.

For Sen, to show abject poverty in Bengal during the '70s was essential to capture the rebellious political mood of the trying times. In his own words, Mrinal says in Montage: Life, Politics, Cinema, “I wanted to interpret the restlessness, the turbulence of the period that was 1971 and what it is due to. I wanted to have a genesis. The anger had not suddenly fallen out of anywhere. It must have a beginning and an end. I wanted to try to find this genesis and, in the process, redefine our history. And in my mind, this was extremely political.”

These directors made a political statement through not only narrative but also their craft of filmmaking. With the help of cinematographer KK Mahajan, Sen conceptualised the then-revolutionary finale sequence of a hand-held shot following a troubled youth through narrow Kolkata alleyways. The scratchy and rough texture of the scene would enhance the audiences’ perception of the boy-man’s fear and angst at a probable death. Sen even diverted to documentary footage within the film, by which he seemed to address live political issues.

Final secen in Calcutta 71 shows the protagonist escaping through narrow Kolkata alleyways

Final scene in Calcutta 71 shows the protagonist escaping through narrow Kolkata alleyways

Minutes later, the youth is shot dead

Minutes later, the youth is shot dead

On the other hand, confronting the then-political and social unrest through his films was not something which came easily to Satyajit Ray. Though vocally supportive, Ray steered clear of making any bold statements regarding burning political issues with his works in the '60s (a fact for which the director came under severe attack at the time).

Despite his self-admitted disillusionment, Ray could not ignore the explosive political situation in Calcutta for long. Pratidwandi, his “most provocative film”, was then a result of the filmmaker’s acceptance of the unrest around him.

With Pratidwandi, Ray tried to show the personal struggles of people in politically troubled times; unlike Calcutta 71, which in essence was a film on the collective revolution. The film depicts the decline in moral standards in Kolkata at the height of the Naxal movement. It is a scathing indictment of the control and callousness of the wealthy and influential in society.

Satyajit Ray on sets of Pratidwandi

Satyajit Ray on sets of Pratidwandi

The plot of Pratidwandi progresses through realistic presentation. However, the linear progression of the narrative is often interrupted by sudden flashbacks, fantasy and dream sequences, freeze-frames, voice-over, the shift to negative images, and jump cuts. This, in essence, served to disturb the viewers’ perspective and draw attention to volatile political realities. Pratidwandi was a clear departure from Ray’s classical style of shooting. He shot generously in crammed public buses and claustrophobic interiors with jerky, hand-held close ups.

Still from Ray's Pratidwandi depicting Siddhartha's crammed classroom

Still from Ray's Pratidwandi, depicting Siddhartha in a crammed classroom

Worthy of note is a scene where Siddhartha, the film’s young protagonist, has a violent outburst at the ill-treatment meted out to him by a few bureaucrats interviewing him for a job. The retaliation was Ray’s condemnation of the power-holders in an unjust system. With the hesitant, indecisive youth at the film’s crux, Ray managed to depict the general frustration that many had with the political unrest and moral decay in the city.

Pratidwandi's final scene where Siddhartha faces a panel of bureaucrats for a job interview

Pratidwandi's final scene where Siddhartha faces a panel of bureaucrats for a job interview

With these films, directors attempted and succeeded at speaking to audiences, drawing their collective attention to the turmoil around them. The exemplary works stood as a bridge between discontented minds so that they could lament, speak out, mourn or express themselves in a way of their choosing.

The times allowed the space for the medium and craft to voice dissent. Gone are those times with those great men.

(All images from Facebook)

Updated Date: Mar 12, 2019 13:51:41 IST

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