The elitist bias in Bengal

I am a subscriber of the posts of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, whom we fondly call Didi. So, on 22 July, when my tab vibrated with a notification from FB, I was least surprised. What caught my attention, though, was the platitudes of sneering comments on the post that declared the names of the recipients of the Mahanayak Uttam Kumar Awards 2014. The reason for the consternation was the inclusion of names like Dev, Moonmoon Sen and Swapan Saha.

To begin with, the 37 other names mentioned in the list of 40 were well deserving, but completely ignored (deliberately) by the outrage-happy Facebookers (the upper middle class Kolkata, essentially, apart from Bengalis who bid goodbye to the State and have hardly bothered ever since to contribute to its growth). I wonder, do they not feel happy when artists like Mamata Shankar, Anuradha Roy or Soumik Haldar get due recognition for their art? Or are they totally ignorant of the Bengali film industry to simply know of names like Dev or Ms Sen?

Some were too eager to search for a Trinamool link to this. Alas, they missed the fact that the CM included names like Sabyasachi Chakraborty, who until the recent elections have campaigned for the Red party.

There were some newbies on social media who clearly had not heard about this award, which is in its third year now. Some were raising questions like why Prosenjit or Soumitra have not been given these honours. Well, for them, a basic google search would suffice. Soumitra Chatterjee was the first recipient of Mahanayak Samman, followed by Prosenjit next year. Even “mediocre” (according to the elitists) actors like Jeet and Koel have been past recipients. Directors like Srijit Mukherjee or Sandip Roy have in the past graced the dias, and so did directors like Kamaleshwar Mukherjee and Prodipto Bhattacharya today.

Satyajit Ray had once famously advised Sharmila Tagore (by her own confession at a session in Kolkata Literary Meet, 2014) not to look down upon directors who made films for the masses. One of the best directors of this generation Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury worked with Dev in a film recently. If the stalwarts of the art do not give in to biases, what pricks those who always have to snigger at those who are seemingly a class lower than them? Education leads to liberty of thoughts, but for the educated class in Bengal, it cages them in a false world of superiority.

In this respect, I must cite the reference of Gora and the Deb family from Ganer Opare. Although it was aimed at challenging the institutionalisation of Tagore, Rituparno also sent out a message of anti-elitism. While the Deb brothers laughed at and mocked Gora’s raw talent as a false sense of entitlement because of their education, it was Bisri, who had broken the fetters of elitism, who understood Gora’s worth.

At the end of it all, the question that haunts me – why are the middle class Bengalis so non-receptive to change? While a mass-murderer CM was okay for them as long as he could swear by his Goddard and Fellini, they have to criticise every action of a woman with a humble background. As someone who had a childhood of struggles, despite having “Bonedi” roots, I find that extremely offensive. The rise of Dev has been phenomenal. From a small village in Ghatal he is now the heartthrob of millions. He has proved his mettle in Chander Pahar, and will surely not disappoint in Buno Haansh, is my firm belief.

Even Prosenjit was mocked by the same class of elitists when he was the rural heartthrob. It took Unishe April for perception of the city-bred hypocrite class to change. Dev surely needs his Rituparno. With promising directors like Kaushik Ganguly or Srijit Mukherjee around, that wouldn’t be too much to ask, I guess.

Nayak toh sobai. Uttam Kumar Mahanayak chhilen not because he was actor par excellence but because the masses adored him. Soumitra was a better actor than Uttam Kumar. Tahole keno Uttam Mahanayak? Oi je bollam – Uttam was a superstar. Now the audience has changed, and so has the superstar.

About Agnivo Niyogi

Typical Aantel, reader, blogger, news addict, opinionated. Digital media enthusiast. Didi fanboi. Joy Bangla!

Posted on July 24, 2014, in kolkata, Personal Musings and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Don’t know about others, but I will stand by my sneer. I almost feel obliged to. Why? You said it all in the last sentence. I assure you that the sneer isn’t exclusive for Dev and Moon Moon Sen. But perhaps, personally speaking, I have hardly been appalled at the cinematic prowess any other personality so involved in the recent or distant past than of the above mentioned. Being popular is one thing, but when state recognition of art follows strictly behind, it reeks of populism. Even if Dev’s nomination is justified by reason of contemporary frenzy, I don’t know what can be said about Moon Moon’s (and yes, I am pained to say this cries for shouts of mala fide). There’s a reason we look at state recognition as separate from popular awards. Somewhere we need people to remember the Naseeruddin Shahs, the Irrfan Khans, the Indraneil Senguptas, the Ritwick Chakrabortys as premier performers, not just fringe ‘critics choice’ medallists. Where ‘Meghe Dhaka Tara’ is not sent into oblivion by a ‘Chander Pahar’ beyond competition. The Shah Rukh Khans, the Prosenjits and the Devs will always command popular attention, give them fringe awards or not.

    P.S. It does not hurt to be an elitist when it comes to art. I daresay Tagore, by whom, you might swear your Bengali cultural roots, might not have survived without it. And yes, it is harsh to judge Dev based on his work till now. In fact, I was glad that he got Chander Pahar. But, he still has a long way to go before one considers him a serious actor. He doesn’t need awards for getting work. Just like Messi didn’t need the Golden Ball. Others deserved it more than him. And boy, others needed it more than him.

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  2. Abhinaba Basu

    Does it matter? Anyway who cares about these awards like Mahanayak/Mahanayika? If you do something in bulk, that loses value. Few months back (last year I guess), I watched lots of people got lots of awards, actually everybody got something Bangabhushan/Bibhushan. You name a celebrity, he/she got an award, so at the eod, these awards have no value. Now when everyone got one, next year there are not much celebrity left, hence day by day the award winner value will come down, it is so obvious.

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  3. Shameek Mookherjee

    The last line sums it all. The audience has changed so is the superstar. Now it is many superstars and many audiences. Awards can’t be given to all in a single shot and everyone wants their pie. So the cribbing of the left overs will continue. Nice blog as usual!

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