Mamata Banerjee, Chief Minister of West Bengal, had been actively involved in playing host to the Kolkata International Film Festival over the years. Image Credit: AP

Kolkata: The timing could not have been better when Prakash Javadekar, the Union Information and Broadcasting Minister, announced at a meet-and-greet session with the Who’s Who of Bengali film industry on Monday that a national level film award would be instituted in the name of the iconic director Satyajit Ray.

While no further details on the award were available, it is believed that it would be somewhat in the lines of the Dada Saheb Phalke award - hitherto considered as the highest honour in Indian cinema. This being the birth centenary year of Ray, the Oscar-winning director who is considered to be Bengal’s biggest cultural icon after the Nobel laureate bard Rabindranath Tagore, there are no prizes for guessing that the mileage in bestowing this honour on him on the threshold of the West Bengal elections is too lucrative to let go.

The decision of the Union ministry was welcomed by Sandip Ray, the director’s son, as coming ‘‘just at the right time.’’ While there could always be the counterpoint that it’s better late than never (Ray had passed away in 1992), but it’s more of the political nouss of Bharatiya Janata Party which has not let the opportunity of his centenary year pass without making a statement. It’s been almost a template for the BJP, against whom the state chief minister Mamata Banerjee of All India Trinammool Congress has been hitting out with the ‘outsiders’ tag, to be visible and pay their obeisance to the likes of Swami Vivekananda, Tagore or Subhas Chandra Bose.


What, of course, is making more interesting fodder was Javadekar’s meeting with the movers and shakers of Tollywood on that occasion - which included several A-listers who don’t have so-called political affiliations, directors and leading producers. The likes of Abir Chatterjee, Rituparana Sengupta or Paoli Dam who were present at the meeting later stressed that it was an ‘apolitical’ meeting which acted as a forum for them to put forth the problems of the regional industry on the table - like urging for a better distribution network for Bengali films, involvement of government arm National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) to produce Bengali films again as well the presence of their regional movies on OTT platforms.

‘‘I had accepted the invitation as the discussion was supposed to revolve around films. If it had been a political one, then I wouldn’t have gone. However, questions may be raised since the elections are round the corner but it’s something not in my control,’’ Rituparna Sengupta, a leading actor, told the local media.

I had accepted the invitation as the discussion was supposed to revolve around films. If it had been a political one, then I wouldn’t have gone. However, questions may be raised since the elections are round the corner but it’s something not in my control

- Rituparna Sengupta, Actor

Three of the top producers of the state: Mahendra Soni, Nispal Singh and Ashok Dhanuka who were present at the discussion said it was out of business considerations that they went there. ‘‘I have been in the business for the last 32 years, but we have never received a call-up from a Union Information and Cultural Minister.I am a businessman first and if such a move has been taken even with the elections in mind, it’s still a good move,’’ said a candid Dhanuka.

However, political observers feel that the timing of Javadekar’s visit - at a time BJP has recently wooed a number of signficant names from the industry under the saffron umbrella - there will be pertinent questions raised about the BJP leadership’s sudden concern about the welfare of Bengali cinema.

It was the Trinamool Congress who had fallen back heavily on the star value of celebrities of this industry, ever since coming to power in the state in 2011, to prise out key constituencies - as well as often diffuse the odd intra-party squabble by using them as neutral candidates.

Prakash Javadekar's announcement of a national award in the name of Satyajit Ray and his patient hearing of the problems of Bengali film industry has given rise to speculations. Image Credit: AP

It was, hence, quite a culture shock at the turn of the last decade for the people of West Bengal to accept the likes of Debashree Roy, Shatabdi Roy, veteran Sandhya Roy, MoonMoon Sen or Chiranjit assuming important roles as MLAs or MPs. The results had not always been encouraging but ‘Didi’ had continued with her preferred choices, the last occasion being the 2019 Lok Sabha elections when two absolutely political rookies - Mimi Chakraborty and Nusrat Jahan returned as winners from Jadavpur and Barasat constituencies.

The local film industry, in turn, became one of the beneficiaries of Didi’s attention and largesse - though her ritual to flaunt the stars at public functions were often unneccessary and became a sort of embarrassment. 

The Tollywood is clearly an area which the BJP has been trying to woo - and the results are showing. While Ms Locket Chatterjee, the BJP MP from Hooghly, had carved a niche for herself in the last few years with her increased presence in the constituency, the last month or so had seen a stream of Tollywood actors, a fair percentage of them from the TV serials though, joining the BJP bandwagon.

A few notable catches for the party since January had been Yash Dasgupta, a young hero who graduated from the teleserials, and Rudranil Ghosh. The latter’s switchover from the Trinamool siders’ camp had evoked sharp criticism allround - but Ghosh is ready with an explanation.

While Dasgupta was inducted in Kolkata last week, Ghosh was a part of a high profile group of ministers and leaders who formally joined the BJP at Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s residence last month. Trinamool, however, hit back with a few brownie points when they roped in a clutch of actors like young Shaoni Ghosh, Kanchan Mullick and director Raj Chakraborty on Wednesday.

In a chat with Gulf News, Ghosh said one of the reasons behind his move was to protect the interest of the technicians of the industry. ‘‘I will have to admit that in the initial years of this regime between 2011 and 2014, they had done a lot of work for the benefit of the industry. However, the last four to five years have seen a deterioration of the scene where one has to be affiliated to TMC only to get assignments. It’s a kind of Mafia raaj, you can say,’’ said Ghosh, who has been a part of several critically acclaimed films in his career.

Has the move to BJP, then, stopped with Yash and Rudranil? ‘‘It’s just the beginning,’’ he signed off.

Film stars can be responsible politicians too: Rudranil Ghosh

By Gautam Bhattacharyya, Senior Associate Editor

Kolkata: The landscape of Indian politics is replete with larger-than-life performers from the screen making it big in their second innings. While the trend began in the southern part of the country with the likes of N.T. Rama Rao, MGR and ‘Amma’ Jayalalitha striding their respective state’s political scenario bigtime, the Eighties had seen the mega stars of Bollywood take the plunge at the national level.

If Sunil Dutt, father of Sanjay Dutt, was one of the earliest names who became a Congress MP and then a Minister of State, the mighty Amitabh Bachchan, Shatrughan Sinha, Vinod Khanna, Rajesh Khanna, Jaya Prada had all tested wonders - with varying degrees of success. In the current BJP dispensation, Smriti Irani, who had tasted resounding success ion the small screen, had been a minister for long and very much a part of the BJP think tank.

Does the perception of actors making bad politicians, then hold true ? ‘‘Not always, what is important for us is to be politically conscious. How would you otherwise explain the rise of Locket Chatterjee, who is now being given major responsibility by the party?’’ Ghosh told Gulf News.

Fair enough, but how would be fight the tag of a ‘turncoat,’ who was initially a Left-leaning individual who went on to enjoy a government placement before moving onto BJP? ‘‘See, this is not the same party which I joined six-seven years back. I would like to play my part in ushering in a healthy working atmosphere in the studios and want to see West Bengal prosper,’’ he said.

Well, he is certainly making the right noises!