• Bengali Film Bhobishyoter Bhoot Pulled Off from Theatres Without Explanation

    The socio-political satire was pulled off from all multiplexes and single screen theatres a day after its release on February 15

    Ditsa Bhattacharya

    February 19, 2019

    Image Courtesy: Indian Express

    A day after the Bengali film Bhobishyoter Bhoot directed by Anik Dutta released on Friday to very favourable reviews, it disappeared from the theatres in West Bengal on Saturday, February 16.

    The director and the producers of the film told NewsClick that they still have not received any official communication notifying them why this drastic step was taken against the film. They have been told by the exhibitors that the film was taken off the theatres based on orders from higher authorities.

    Bhobishyoter Bhoot is the fourth Bengali film made by Anik Dutta, who is known for making socially relevant, satirical films packed with wit and humour. It mourns the ‘living dead’, and the characters, portrayed as ghosts, propose to become relevant in the near future and support the cause of the marginalised to protect their rights.

    The film was released in a total of 60 screens in 40 halls across the state, all of which started pulling it out starting Saturday noon. When the director, accompanied by the cast and crew of the film went to a theatre in South City, Kolkata, that had stopped the screening of the film and asked the local representatives for reasons, they were told that the theatre had been instructed by their senior authorities to refund the ticket payers’ money and not show the film.

    Indira Unninayar, the co-producer of the film, told NewsClick that on the afternoon of February 11,  Kalyanmoy Chatterjee, the producer of the film had received a letter and a phone call from the State Intelligence Unit (SIU) of the Kolkata Police claiming that it had received some information about the film, and it was an urgent matter. This letter was followed by another letter from SIU, signed by the Joint Commissioner of Police (Intelligence), Special Branch, Dilip Bandyopadhyay.

    The letter said that the office had received inputs about the content of the film, and it “may hurt public sentiments which may also lead to political law and order issues”, and asked that the film be screened privately to some “senior officials” by the next evening.

    After CBFC’s Clearance, Police Action Illegal?

    Producer Kalyanmoy Chatterjee replied to the letter on February 12, notifying the authorities that the film had been already cleared by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), and asking for a private screening prior to the release was beyond the jurisdiction and legal competence of the police. He also mentioned that the Supreme Court had confirmed that no other authority or public office can interfere in such matters. He did not receive any further response from Kolkata Police.

    The letter issued by the Joint Commissioner of Police

    Unninayar told NewsClick, “Even before the release of the film, the exhibitors were not offering us convenient showtimes, even though people were really eager to watch it. The film released to packed theatres on Friday and received excellent reviews. The audience called it a bold and matured film. However, on Saturday, it was pulled off from all the halls.” She said that the production house, Indibily Creative Pvt. Ltd. still has not received any official letter from the concerned authorities, and they are clueless as to what is going to happen next. “We have incurred a big loss, but more importantly, this is a violation of fundamental rights. The right to speak is being taken away by the authorities,” she said.

    Talking to NewsClick, director Anik Dutta said, “The government has still not taken the responsibility for stopping the screening of the film. The hall-owners are saying that they have orders from the higher authorities. The police are saying that they have orders from the higher authorities. It is obviously clear as to who this ‘higher authority’ is. But they still have not accepted it.”

    A sit-in protest was organised by the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) and film buffs on Sunday in front of Star Theatre, one of the oldest commercial theatres in West Bengal, against this act of “censorship” by the state government. The demonstration was attended by several activists, poets, intellectuals, and film industry professionals.

    Bengali Film Industry Extends Support

    Leading voices in the Bengali film industry have expressed their surprise at the move, and have lent their support to the director. Veteran Bengali actor Soumitra Chatterjee wrote a letter expressing shock and wondering if there was any platform in the country on which people could freely express themselves. He called this a ‘vindictive move’, referring to a comment made by Anik Dutta during the 24th Kolkata International Film Festival in November 2018.

    Dutta had criticised Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s style of functioning during a panel discussion at the festival. He had said that the CM encouraged a culture of sycophancy, and criticised the ‘excessive’ use of Mamata Banerjee’s posters in and around film festivals, and had argued that the films should get more limelight during such events.

    Chatterjee said in the letter, “I strongly condemn such fascist policy even if they stay undercover,” and hoped that all those responsible for pulling off the film from the theatres “will realise that it is an undemocratic act.” This letter was read by Dutta at the sit-in protest.

    Dutta told NewsClick, “The producers are taking legal action in the matter.”


     

    First published in Newsclick.

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