Police stop screening of film in West Bengal

Published : February 20, 2019 16:37 IST

At a time when West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has taken on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government at the Centre for its alleged attacks on democracy and freedom, her own administration in West Bengal is not allowing the screening of a film in cinema halls across the State. On February 16, the acclaimed Bengali filmmaker Anik Datta’s Bhobishyoter Bhoot (Ghost of the Future), a political satire, was suddenly pulled from multiplexes and cinema theatres across West Bengal apparently on the instruction of the police, a day after its release. The film had been cleared by the Censor Board earlier.

The police  asked cinema theatres to stop screening the film allegedly on the grounds that it might hurt “popular sentiment” and create “law and order problems”. There has been no official order prohibiting the screening of the film either from the Central government or the State government. Anik Datta said cinema hall owners were not giving any “valid reason” why the screening of his film was stopped. He pointed out that before the release of the film the police had contacted the producer on phone and wanted to see the film before its formal release as they feared it might hurt public sentiment. The phone call was followed by a letter to the producer from the Intelligence Bureau. “They also have inputs that suggest that some of the contents may hurt the sentiments of a certain section of the audience and hence lead to a political law and order situation,” said Anik Datta. Asked about it, the Chief Minister refused to comment.

The incident once again highlights a streak of intolerance in the State governance against any kind of criticism or even satire. “All political parties have been criticised in this film, but not by name… so we want to know what the problem is, and we are not getting any proper answers,” said Kaushik Sen, who has acted in the film. Stopping the screening of the film in such a manner has outraged not only the film fraternity, but also the public in general.

Taking part in a protest led by actors outside the Academy of Fine Arts in Kolkata, screen legend Soumitra Chatterjee said, “To us, who work in the film industry, this is an extremely shocking matter. It is like a crime. If we allow this to happen without protesting, then in the days to come our situation will worsen. This kind of fascistic act must not be allowed. I appeal to everyone to come forward and try and stop this.”

Soumitra Chatterjee also believes that there may be personal vendetta at work here. Anik Datta had earlier been critical of the fact that there were too many giant cutouts and posters of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee at the time of the Kolkata International Film Festival  in November last year. “The question arises whether there is a personal vendetta at work here. I have no hesitation in stating that I believe there is,” said Soumitra Chatterjee.

Anik Datta did not rule out that possibility either. “It is true one gets immediately marked when one says something that the ruling dispensation does not like; but that cannot be the only reason. Possibly they were apprehensive about what was there in the film. I made a political satire, so everything will not be sugar and honey. There are no real names, but the indications are pretty clear in varying degrees. I should not talk about this as it is for the people to see and decide,” Datta told Frontline.

The protest is not restricted to the film industry alone. In a number of places in Kolkata people gathered to express their condemnation of what happened. “It is now no longer just about the film. It has become a much wider issue as it is now being perceived as a blatant attack on democracy. Universities like Jadavpur University and Presidency are also staging protests,” said Anik Datta.

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