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Pride and prejudice

Starring: Mithun Chakraborty, Laboni Sarkar, Shaheb Bhattacherjee, Barkha Bisht Sengupta, Anindo Banerjee

Directed by: Mahesh Manjrekar

Ami Subhash Bolchhi raises issues about corruption within the socio-political system in a wishful-thinking scenario, portraying how social change can happen if individuals change from within. The film plays to the gallery, invoking the spirit of Subhash Chandra Bose, who becomes the conscience of an ordinary man (Mithun Chakraborty as Debabrata Bose) who stands up to the forces of evil in society.

With superhero films being the order of the day from Green Lantern to Ra.One to Captain America, Ami Subhash Bolchhi, though reminiscent of Lage Raho Munnabhai (where Gandhi’s philosophies were upheld in today’s context), is structured like a superhero flick.

A superhero almost always begins as an avatar of the ordinary man an ally with whom the wider audience can identify. Debabrata Bose is one such identifiable humble middle-class, lau-chingri-eating ‘typical Bengali’ a phrase used as a slur to taunt him and break his spirit till he proclaims in an overtly theatrical sequence that he is ashamed to be a Bengali.

This blasphemous proclamation awakens the immortal spirit of Netaji who empowers his modern-day namesake to wake up the next morning as an assertive, stronger version of himself, a modern-day saviour and symbol of Bengali pride. Just like Spiderman and Superman who are average Joes behind the scenes but have costumes of red, blue and white the colours of the American flag, as they are symbols of national pride.

Bose takes on the world, starting with the family refusing to allow his wannabe-Hindi- film-actress daughter to change her name from ‘Bose’ to ‘Chopra’. Next, corrupt municipal corporation officers get a piece of his mind and instantly transform into honest people. Next stop: Bombay to confront the film director who refused his daughter a role because of her being a Bengali. He too is miraculously transformed by Bose’s speech, listing eminent Bengalis in the media world, and admitting that he is a “Mukherjee”, following which Bose reminds him that Bengalis have been Nobel laureates.

Bose refuses to sell his house to the corrupt realtor Ramniklal Ghosalia. In his last battle with this supervillain he spares him, giving him one last chance, transforming him into a good guy who smiles and says ‘Aami gorbito aami Bangali (I’m proud to be a Bengali)’, after which I heard my anonymous neighbour in the cinema hall proclaim aloud: ‘Eita ektu barabari!

Many superhero films were created during the times of political and historical change (Superman the Great Depression; Iron Man the Vietnam War) as such films are known to have a powerful effect on nationalistic attitudes. In this context, one can’t help notice the timing of the release of Ami Subhash Bolchhi, with the change in the political climate.

For a film that is about Bengal pride, one can’t think of a better spokesperson than Mithun Chakraborty. Shaheb and Barkha, cast as Bose’s children, are welcome fresh faces on the big screen, while Anindo Banerjee is a convincing Subhash Chandra Bose.

But the film portrays stereotypical characters across the board greedy, slimy politicians; corrupt businessmen dealing in black money; middle-class salaried folk being honest and therefore, by default, good. The politics of stereotyping in general uses the concepts of in-groups viewed as superior and out-groups as inferior, thereby gaining the support of large demographics. But sometimes there is a need for shades of grey.

We forget that we are headed towards a global village and Calcutta is, now more than ever, a cosmopolitan city a melting pot. Perhaps the pride should be for ‘Bengal’ not necessarily for ‘Bengalis’.

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