Festival/Felicitation Fever in Kolkata

It has to be said – the new CM of West Bengal is quite media savvy. She has every right to be so since she has triumphantly overthrown the Left-ruled Government that thought it was there till Kingdom Come. But she is very fond of felicitating celebrities especially of the cultural world. Every function sponsored, organized or backed by the new government is filled with felicitations. This began when Didi was the Central Minister for Railways. She announced the opening of a new Metro station and out came felicitations in large numbers mainly of film personalities who, she felt, had been ignored by the intellectual ministry of the Left.

For the inaugural ceremony of the 17th Kolkata Film Festival (KFF) 2011 that was shifted from its traditional habitat of the Nandan Complex to Netaji Indoor Stadium to accommodate and audience of 10,000, an entire crowd of veteran film stars, singers and so on were on the dais to be felicitated by the CM herself. Sharmila Tagore and Shah Rukh Khan were specially invited to light the inaugural lamp and were also within the list of those being felicitated. The closing day saw a repeat of the inauguration with the exception that this time round, it remained in Nandan. Heading those who practically filled up the stage and some more was Soumitra Chatterjee, reportedly a strong supporter of the previous government who was found sitting beside the CM and smiling away generously. This is the first time the veteran star has been seen in any grand event organised by the new government.

Others on the dais were – veteran singers Dwijen Bandopadhyay and Sandhya Mukherjee, theatre person Bibhas Chakraborty, directors Prabhat Roy, Haranath Chakraborty, Sandip Ray currently Chairperson of Nandan and Rituparno Ghosh, actors Prosenjit, Sabyasachi Chakraborty, Satabdi Roy, Debashree Roy, Aparna Sen, Ranjit Mullick, Haradhan Banerjee and several others all specially felicitated by the CM with a shawl and a custom-made memento with a Tagore emblem.

What struck home is the fact that unlike the previous CM, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, who was a great cinema-savvy person, Didi hardly watches films at all and if reports are to be believed, she has hardly watched one film over thirty years! But she has kept the festival flag flying, warts and all and uses it as one more opportunity to distribute felicitations like invitation cards.

The films selected by the selection panel with veteran actor Ranjit Mullick, Chairperson of the Festival Committee at the head of affairs who was present to answer every query and attend every press meet he had to attend, the selections were quite good and in fact, the eleven films chosen for the Asian Select category offered a wide variety of films from Asian countries that stand testimony to the pushing of borders of ‘Asia’ to include other nations, filmmakers and producers in terms of cinema.

The International Cinema section had some truly wonderful and very recent films by filmmakers ranging from Abbas Kiarostami to Jean-Luc Goddard to Nuri Bilge Ceylan to Alexander Sokurov to Bela Tarr and Darius Meherjui. Their films were just too amazing to be given a miss. Naseeruddin Yousuff’s film Guerilla from Bangladesh won the NETPAC Jury Award while the only Bengali film from India, Icche, was sidetracked. The nearly ninety-year-old Mrinal Sen turned up to watch Terrence Malik’s The Tree of Life and stayed till the end. Considering that the new government has not really included him within their felicitations list, he has no qualms so far as watching good cinema is concerned.

The food court was very neat this year but the toilets could not be stripped of their usual stigma – the stink that has become a hallmark of the Nandan complex. But what really hurt is the CM publicly requesting Shah Rukh Khan to become the brand ambassador for the State of West Bengal!

Shah Rukh Khan gave a very audience-savvy speech and even applauded the audience for their whistles and cat-calls at the inauguration. His links with the state is only through his cricketing team. He is not a Bengali, cannot speak Bengali, does not live here, does not work in Bengali films nor produce them, and is settled in Maharashtra. What makes him eligible to take on the brand ambassador-ship of a state he knows nothing about, no one knows. He has not accepted the offer yet. But then, looking back, if the Big B can become brand ambassador of Gujarat, why blame our CM for requesting the Badshah of Bollywood to take on the responsibility, or challenge? Or is it only the title? Will it add to his resume? Let’s wait and watch.

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