Mamata and her regime represent the rule of a Sultanate, which is arbitrarily punishing people for exercising their fundamental rights. It is time for the people of Bengal to rise once again against the injustice every soul is bound to face in the Mamata’s censored regime
West Bengal is known as the cultural capital of India, and rightly so it is a state which nurtures literature, art and dance. It is said that the preservation of one’s own culture does not require contempt or disrespect for other cultures. Yet, the political structure of West Bengal with Mamata Banerjee as its driving force is at the peak of intolerance of other cultures and individual freedom. Priyanka Sharma, BJP youth leader from Howrah, was arrested for allegedly sharing a photoshopped picture of Mamata Banerjee on social media.
This is not the first time that people and their voices have been shut down by the Mamata government. Mamata Banerjee, who positions herself as the champion of free speech, has always taken a dim view of satire and dissent. We have received timely reminders now and then about how West Bengal is turning in to “Didi’s Censored Bengal.”
Recently, critically claimed movie ‘Bhobishyoter Bhoot’ was removed from the multiplexes and single theatres in Bengal. The producer of the film said, “Despite release orders issued to the exhibitors with advances paid for exhibition of the film from February 15 to 21, 2019, yet without any prior notice or information, they suddenly withdrew permission for the film on the afternoon of February 16.” This step by the government drew criticism from the artist fraternity. It is not the first time that filmmakers had to face the wrath of the TMC ruling government. Mamata Banerjee has now come to represent ‘Hitler’ for the widely celebrated Bengal film industry.
Demonstrations were staged by artists in protest of the censorship against the film. At a demonstration in Kolkata, several artists and activists held banners and placards criticising the act of censorship. The protest was organised by actor Joyraj Bhattacharjee. The co-producer of ‘Bhobishyoter Bhoot’, Indira Unninayar, said they were contemplating further legal action, in addition to sending notices to the Eastern India Motion Pictures Association. The film industry in the country plays a major role in signifying the freedom of expression practised by the people of the country. This is a direct attack on the fundamental rights of the artist who put in great efforts to highlight the societal evils and portray it on the celluloid.
The film according to the press release, “mourns the living dead and the ghosts propose to become relevant in the future and support the cause of the marginalised to protect their rights.” The film is a political satire where various fictional parties of different political leanings, Left and Right, are spoken about. For instance, one of the film’s characters, Das, abandons his Leftist politics to start a venture capital firm he names Das Capital.
In light of this, the Supreme Court had slammed the Mamata government and ordered to pay Rs 20 lakh to the producers who suffered financial loss. In the Supreme Court, the judges expressed
serious concern over the “growing intolerance” in the society against artistic freedom.
In the past, critics have shown their anger over the censorship that Mamata Banerjee’s government put on movies without giving a second thought to the losses incurred by the franchise and de-motivating talent of the artists. In 2013, ‘Kangal Malsat’, a Bengali film by filmmaker Suman Mukhopadhyay, was not passed by the regional body of Central Board of Film Certification.
The director of the movie, Suman Mukhopadhyay had said, “It is frightening because it is interference of an artist’s work and it is happening again and again in West Bengal. It is not the first time. There was Ambikesh Mahapatra cartoon case, there was the segregation of newspapers and TV channels as friendly and not friendly, and there was the student who was called a Maoist because she asked a question. All these small events are symptomatic of a mindset of what I will say are fascist tendencies.”
‘Kangal Malsat’ was actually about the rebellion of the poor against the Left in West Bengal; about the Left’s lack of focus on industry, on urban infrastructure like flyovers and malls. Only the last seven to ten minutes of the film focused on the Trinamool Congress (TMC) government that replaces the Left in the state.
In November 2017, Mamata Banerjee had called the controversy over the movie ‘Padmavat’ ‘unfortunate’ and a ‘calculated plan’ to destroy freedom of expression. She had said she would welcome Padmavat’s release in her state with open arms and make special arrangements for the same. However, supporting the fraternity of artists in Bengal is not a key point in her to-do list. She had the audacity to speak about freedom of expression while her own regional film industry is crying over mindless censors they are facing.
In 2012, Agnidev’s ‘Tin Kanya’ was not allowed for screening in the theatres. There was no proper reason given to the team. In her defence, Mamata Banerjee refused to acknowledge that any such ban was put on the screening of the movie. However, some of the ministers of the Mamata Banerjee government had made it clear that they played some role in ensuring that the film did not reach the theatres.
Creative artists should be given the freedom to express their ideas (words, pictures, music and films). However, the way the government interferes directly or indirectly as it happens in West Bengal in recent times is deplorable. No real change has come and Mamata needs to stop preaching about freedom of expression. There are many film directors who show their creativity by means of movies in which they try to present their thoughts and make the audience feel as to where these thoughts fit in society or in their life.
Bengal has always been a symbol of revolutions in the field of art and culture. Mamata Banerjee and her government represent the rule of a sultanate which is arbitrarily punishing people of the state for exercising their fundamental rights. It is time for the people of Bengal to rise once again against the injustice every soul is bound to face in the Mamata censored regime.
(The writer is an independent entrepreneur and former financial analyst at HSBC Kolkata)