Kolkata International Film Festival opens; doctors worried as Mamata allows 100 per cent seating in cinema halls

Published : January 08, 2021 22:16 IST

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee (fourt from left) during the inauguration of the Kolkata International Film Festival, at Nabanna in Kolkata on January 8 Photo: PTI

For the last 26 years the Kolkata International Film Festival (KIFF) has been one of the most important annual cultural events in Kolkata. It not only showcases some of the greatest masterpieces of world cinema, but also highlights the works of contemporary filmmakers in the country and around the world. In fact, the week-long film festival has often been likened to a religious event by the cinema-crazy public of the city. This year’s festival, however, will be a unique experience as it is taking place under the shadow of the COVID-19 threat. The 26th edition of the festival, which was supposed to have been held in November 2020, was deferred due to the pandemic.

Inaugurating the festival on January 8, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said, “We were really not certain whether we will ultimately be able to hold this year’s film festival. This is the way it has been with all festivals. Everybody, including those in the film industry, particularly the poor technicians and others, suffered a lot in the last one year…. There is pain in our heart for all those we lost in the course of the year.” This year’s KIFF will pay special tribute to those artistes and directors who passed away in 2020 – many of whom succumbed after contracting Coronavirus. There will be screenings of the films of the legendary thespian Soumitra Chatterjee, who passed away due to COVID-related complications in November 2020; of the Argentine director Fernando Solanas, who also died in November after contracting COVID; the South Korean Director Kim Ki-duk, another COVID victim who died in December; the great Indian filmmaker Basu Chatterjee who passed away in June last year; the iconic actors Rishi Kapoor and Irfan Khan; the legendary danseuse Amala Shankar and popular Bengali actor Santu Mukhopadhyay. The COVID motif has also been used to advertise the KIFF. Posters of stills from popular films show the characters wearing masks, and each poster has the tagline: “the show must go on.”

This year the festival will be held in a much smaller scale, and will showcase only 81 full length feature films from 45 countries, along with 51 short films and documentaries. The tickets will have to be obtained online and the screenings will take place in only eight halls. “It is true this time we are holding it in a smaller scale, but we are still holding the film festival nevertheless. Many others have not…. Because of the pandemic cinema halls are allowed 50 per cent seating. I will tell the Chief Secretary Alapan Bandopadhyay to issue a notification to allow 100 per cent seating in the halls. But I will ask the hall owners to ensure that the audience are wearing masks and applying hand sanitisers. They should spray the hall after every show,” said Mamata.

Doctors concerned

However, the decision to allow 100 per cent seating in the halls is worrying doctors in the State. A well-known Kolkata-based physician told Frontline on the condition of anonymity, “It is ridiculous to allow 100 per cent seating at a time when other more sparsely populated countries are going for yet another lockdown. People here are hardly adhering to the COVID protocols. Most are not even wearing masks and there is crowding practically everywhere.” According to Archana Majumdar, Senior Chief Medical Officer in eastern and north-eastern India, the decision may prove to be very dangerous for the people of the state. “We have to abide by the rules and regulations for COVID as laid down by the Ministry of Health and ICMR, and it clearly states that there should be 50 per cent occupancy in cinema halls…. New strains of COVID have been discovered which are a threat to the entire people of West Bengal. These strains need to be studied and analysed and all doctors and scientists are worried about them. Before vaccinations can be fully completed our Chief Minister is allowing 100 per cent seating in cinema halls. Our government allowed New Year’s Eve festivities to take place. This is dangerous for the people of Bengal,” Majumdar told Frontline.

Punyabrata Gun, convener of the Joint Platform of Doctors feels that regardless of the new strains, it is still not safe to allow 100 per cent seating in cinema halls. “If such a decision is indeed taken, then it will be a wrong one. COVID has not gone away, and people are still dying from it. Social distancing must be maintained,” Gun told Frontline.