Katrina Kaif and Anushka Sharma at the inauguration of the 18th Calcutta Film festival on Saturday. (Reuters)
3.30pm: Mamata Banerjee strides into Netaji Indoor Stadium through the backdoor and down the blue carpet. A little lumpy edge of the carpet catches her foot. She pauses, takes two steps back and pats it down with her foot. No shooting star must trip on his or her way into Mamata’s Bengal. Enter, CM as micro-manager of the 18th Calcutta Film Festival.
For two hours on Saturday evening, it was Bengal shining in the glow of make-believe (we refrain from calling it sajano) as land, conflict and apprehension were replaced by lights, camera and action.
And the chief minister was in her elements — playing event manager-cum-starstruck host to Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Mithun Chakraborty, Katrina Kaif, Anushka Sharma, a host of Tollywood stars and thousands of people filling the stadium.
“Nervous?” Mithun had asked Mamata, minutes before the blockbuster first day, first show was ready to roll. “Na, na, aami abar nervous kothay (No-no, why should I be nervous)?” she had smiled back.
After all, she was back in her comfort zone of “culture” less than 24 hours after her attempts to woo industry at a time when the business mood in Bengal has hit a low.
Shah Rukh Khan had set the tone earlier in the day while promoting his Diwali film Jab Tak Hai Jaan, by saying: “I feel that the film festival is the most important part of Calcutta. While last year I was a guest, this year, as the brand ambassador of Bengal, I am the host….”
If SRK used the stadium stage to play the triple role of Bengal brand ambassador, leading man of Jab Tab Hai Jaan and film festival host, his co-host, Mamata Banerjee, was the evening’s all-rounder — from straightening out the blue carpet to overseeing last-minute preparations in the green room, from hosting the Bollywood biggies to pitching for filmi investment in Bengal.
Behind the scenes, she had checked on Dev pacing around in red dhoti and practising his lines, then hugged four little boys and girls in light blue satin dresses ready to hand over bouquets to the special guests, and beamed, “Amar favourite colour!” She first received Amitabh Bachchan and later Shah Rukh Khan (with Katrina Kaif and Anushka Sharma) and escorted the Bollywood Dons of yesterday and today to the green room, and then on to the dais.
There she sat, flanked by AB and SRK, looking like (at least for this one evening) all was well with her world. She leaned to her right to chat animatedly with “legendary Amitabhji”, and then to her left with “brother Shah Rukh” while pointing out how the stadium was filled to capacity.
Bachchan’s baritone, with bits of Bengali, slices of personal connect with “India’s cultural capital” and dollops of history of Indian cinema in its 100th year drew awe and applause in equal measure, from both audience and his host. No wonder he later tweeted: “At the festival the personal care and hospitality of the Chief Minister, her humility and down to earth nature, so endearing… looking into every aspect of the event personally… so lovable!!”
SRK too professed love for Mamatadi — maybe not quite the Jab Tak Hai Jaan kind — as he said: “All I want to see is Mamatadi running around energetically and pushing everyone and getting things done and her marvellous enthusiasm.... She does carry a big, powerful punch in a small, little packet.... She’s really, really cool.”
And Mamata did play it cool — after all, the only industry under the spotlight on this platform was the film industry. “The Bengali film industry is doing very well and we want to see a bridge between Tollywood, Bollywood and Hollywood. Bengal has the potential.… I welcome all of my international and national film friends to please come and invest in Bengal, where Darjeeling is smiling, Jungle Mahal is smiling, Sunderbans is smiling… and my sisters and brothers are also all smiling.”