Video Editor: Ashutosh Bharadwaj
On 15 February, Anik Dutta, an acclaimed Bengali filmmaker, released his latest directorial venture Bhobishyoter Bhoot. The film opened to an almost full house in most movie theatres across West Bengal.
Two days later, Dutta started receiving reports from cinegoers and social media that the film was not being screened in any single screen theatre or multiplex in Kolkata. Those who had bought advanced tickets were being given refunds and those who wanted to purchase fresh ones were told that there was a ‘server failure’.
Direction From ‘Higher Authorities’
When Dutta and his team visited the manager of a big multiplex in the city, they were told that there were orders from “higher authorities” to not screen the film.
“About two to three days before the release, my producer got a telephone call followed by a letter, which said that it came from the Intelligence Bureau of the West Bengal government. He was told that they had information that the content of the film may hurt the sentiments of certain members of the audience, and might lead to a political law and order situation. They wanted to see the film at the earliest before the film was released.”Anik Dutta to The Quint
At the time, the producers refused to show the movie to the authorities as the film already had a CBFC certification and did not need to be vetted further in order to be screened.
But this order, just two days after the release of the film, left Dutta and the producers flummoxed.
“I said (to the manager of the multiplex) that there must be some kind of circular or some kind of protocol. Can you please read it out to us or show us? He said there was no such thing. It was verbal communication.”Anik Dutta to The Quint
Dutta’s Confrontation With Mamata
In November 2018, the West Bengal government organised the Kolkata International Film Festival (KIFF). A glitzy affair, it came under attack from many sections of intellectuals for the omnipresence of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s face at the festival venue.
At the time Dutta had also registered his protest against the life-sized posters of Mamata.
Dutta was invited to a panel discussion at the festival, the topic of which was ‘Who makes a film – the producer or director’. He had said that if the venue of the KIFF is anything to go by, it is “the political person whose portraits are plastered all over who makes a film”.
Dutta’s comment attracted a lot of attention at the time. When asked if this could be the reason for his film’s mysterious disappearance from the halls, he said:
“I don’t know if this is the only reason or there could be multiple reasons. They are a little circumspect because I normally do the talking through my films. And that day, I just felt compelled to say. Otherwise, I’d be dishonest as an intellectual. The problem is that no one is saying anything. The administration, the government, no one is owning up.”
Social Media Reacts To Gag Order
The apparent “gag order”, especially in a place like Bengal which has produced satirical films since times immemorial, has left many people on social media fuming.
Actors and common people alike have come out in support of the film.
“I'm not surprised by the present state of affairs. It started with a cartoon or a caricature. There is a strange unwritten kind of gag order where I have found people hesitating from speaking out. I don't know whether it is out of fear or favour or a combination of both. But this was happening,” said Dutta.
“This is not the Kolkata or the Bengal where I grew up,” he added.