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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.

Review: Chander Pahar – the movie

chander pahar cover“What is a film all about? It is all about capturing fleeting moments” – Rituparno Ghosh had famously told us through one of his characters. Watching Chander Pahar on the silver screen, mind bleeding to death, i was thanking God that Ritu Da is dead. Passionate about films and Bengali literature that he is, i doubt if he could digest the inhuman savagery of a novel that any Bengali kid (well, once upon a time when smartphones were not the order of the day) would grow up with. Book and film are two different media to communicate ideas. But a common thread of creativity and imagination runs through both of them. If a product lacks the soul the original creator had infused into it, it is bound to fail.

I didn’t quite like Urochithi (the director’s first film). Kamaleshwar seemed promising. He took the art of film-making to a whole new level with Meghe Dhaka Tara. And suddenly, Chander Pahar makes me hate him. No, his direction is brilliant. He takes Bengali cinema to a new height with breathtaking depiction of Africa. Soumik Haldar’r cinematography is flawless. But was this film supposed to be a documentary on Africa, with a clown in the lead? The answer is a resounding NO.

I have nothing against Dev. It is not his fault that he has good looks, a body to flaunt. It is not his fault that directors use his charm to sell unsaleable, meaningless films. He should never have been in the film business. Sadly, he is. And even sadder, the director of the film thought him competent enough to play Shankar. Every Bengali has a Shankar in them, but definitely not Dev. Even the lion gave better expressions than him.

An actor should prepare himself for a role he is supposed to play. Specially when it is a magnum opus like Chander Pahar. Dev’s Bangla accent is more 2013 North Kolkata rock-style than 1909 mufassil. He speaks English the American way, although it baffles me how a small town boy from a British colony could master that. The very first scene, where he makes a “grand” entry on the screen, looks like he is not running away from an elephant, but running after Koel Mullick in Paglu!

Chander Pahar may be the grandest film ever made in Bengali film industry, but it lacked the simplicity, soulfulness and the imagination that a novel written decades ago by Bibhutibhushan had. Bibhutibhushan’s Africa is more beautiful than Kamaleshwar’s Africa.

One can only pray to prospective film-makers not to even think of making a movie on Aranyak. Some works cannot be translated from one medium to another. A docu-drama on Africa can never be passed off as Chander Pahar, no matter how professional or technically brilliant the film is.

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