Star & Style
The 18th Calcutta International Film Festival was inaugurated on Saturday, November 10 by Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. She always looks happy in the presence of film stars and so you can imagine that she looked quite ecstatic as she sat on stage during the event flanked by Amitabh Bachchan on one side and Shah Rukh Khan on the other. Bachchan, commonly referred to as the Big B— for reasons which I have never fully understood (though undeniably he stands tall in stature both as an actor and in height…but Big B?)— was Chief Guest. He announced that he would speak in Bengali, to the thunderous applause of the audience at Netaji Indoor Stadium, the venue of the event. “Ami Bangla-e bolchhi (I am speaking in Bengali),” he began. And ended with, “Aar parchhi na. (Can’t do this anymore),” to even more thunderous applause from the audience. In between he reminded them that he was Bengal’s “jamai” (son-in-law), married as he is to Jaya Bhaduri, who is a Bengali. Shah Rukh, who is known as King Khan— no doubt for the same reasons that Bachchan is known as Big B— was present as the Brand Ambassador of Begnal and once again— remember when Mamata felicitated his Kolkata Knight Riders’ team for winning the IPL?— showered her with attention and affection, much to the CM’s delight. “She’s really, really cool,” Shah Rukh said fondly of Mamata. The festival, which has been organized by the Kolkata Chalachitra Utsav in association with the state government of West Bengal, will go on till the 17th and will showcase some of global cinema’s best.
No, Mamata Banerjee did not react as expected to veteran filmmaker Girish Karnad’s remarks that Rabindranath Tagore may have been a good poet but was not such a great playwright. In fact, she did not react at all. Several national television channels took up the issue and wondered whether Bengal would erupt into protests and if the Bengal CM would demand apologies and call strikes even. But even as I watched these programmes, I had my doubts that Banerjee would take on Karnad. It wouldn’t be like her to tread so un-cautiously in unfamiliar territory. Literature is not politics and Mamata knows that. Though she quotes Tagore often enough— and she maybe loath to admit it—yet literature is not her strong point. In one of his interviews Karnad explained that he found Tagore’s plays devoid of action and said that only poetry does not constitute drama. He said the plays of Brecht and Lorca are exemplary. If Mamata reacted to Karnad, she would have found her arguments would have to remain cursory. Also it must be remembered that Mamata has always wanted to have the intellectuals on her side and she is an astute enough politician to understand that she does not want to get into too many confrontations with them. They have been her friends since Nandigram and Singur and her victory is at least partially because of their support. This in spite of her falling out with many from this group over her actions and policies, since she came to power. I think perhaps if another politician from a party with which she has an axe to grind— read Congress and worse, CPIM— made similar comments about Tagore, she would have taken them on. It would be in her own turf.
On a Roll
This week, Bengal Congress’ Deepa Das Munshi, who has been instituted into the UPA II government as a central minister of state after Mamata pulled the plug, openly criticized Mamata for the lack of development in Bengal. She said the state’s development has “come to a standstill,” after the TMC came to power in Bengal. Members of the Bengal Congress are on a roll. Since Mamata Banerjee pulled out of the UPA II government, the bitterness that they always nursed against the TMC and how they (Bengal Congress) were playing second fiddle to TMC because of the tie-up is now out in the open. Earlier Congress members’ comments against Mamata were measured and cloaked in diplomatic language, (“We have our differences but we are working on sorting them out”— Congress’ Manas Bhuniya once told us in an interview while the two parties were battling over seat-sharing in a by-election) but now almost everyday you read about a Congress leaders’ open criticism of TMC. Earlier they were prevented from doing so because of the Congress High Command whose instructions were to keep Didi happy but now they have High Command’s green signal.
A Dream Stolen
Last week, after a long time, I took a trip to Shantiniketan, Tagore’s “Abode of Peace,” where the Nobel Laureate set up his dream university. Walking along the lanes of Vishwa Bharati I was saddened by the sheer neglect that it has been subjected to. The damp, decrepit buildings with peeling paint, the lawns littered with trash, the depressing deadpan expressions on the faces of students with a kind of we-are-resigned-to-this-
A Baul song I heard in Shantiniketan:
“Chitey gurey piprey dhorley she piprey norte chortey parena…goley maley, goley maley, pirit koiro na… (When the ant falls into the sweet stickiness of mollasis it loses its power to move…so watch out…don’t fall in love)"