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Prosenjit in Bengal corner at Cannes

Prosenjit at Cannes

Cannes, May 18: As rain lashed Cannes today, it was Bengal’s day at the film festival with the state’s leading male actor, Prosenjit, putting in an appearance at the Confederation of Indian Industry booth.

“Prosenjit Chatterjee has been kind enough to make some time — he is going to spend two days here,” announced Atri Bhattacharya, a senior official from the Bengal government apparently sent by chief minister Mamata Banerjee to promote the state.

Prosenjit “has interrupted a post-production schedule for us”, added Bhattacharya, who is the secretary, department of information and cultural affairs, in the state government.

On arriving in the booth, Prosenjit said he wanted to make the most of his one full day in Cannes.

“I have said I want to see, at least, two pictures — tonight I want to see Monsoon Shootout,” he said. “All my friends, Dibakar (Banerjee), Anurag (Kashyap) are here but they don’t know I have come.”

His trip had been very last minute. “I have my own festival in Calcutta, marking 30 years of my career. I have left that. The West Bengal government said to me, ‘You must go to Cannes – you are the face of Bengal cinema.’ So I said, ‘I will go.’ I want to support the initiative (to promote the cinema industry in West Bengal).”

Prosenjit, dressed casually, was enjoying some familiar sights. “I have come straight from the airport. I am feeling good. Samosa is here, tea is here. I like the posters of Bengal with images of Durga.”

Three states — Bengal, Gujarat and Maharashtra — responded in time to an initiative from the CII which asked others if they wanted to come to Cannes this year and have managed to find space while others were slow to reply and could not be included.

The CII’s deputy director-general, Amita Sarkar, and a colleague, Atreyee Talapatra, were busy in the Bengal corner today. The Bengal section has been decorated with posters especially designed for Cannes projecting such attractions as Durga Puja, Darjeeling and a number of Calcutta landmarks including Victoria Memorial.

The idea is to attract film crews, especially big budget affairs from Hollywood, to come to Bengal.

“West Bengal was on the international platform because of Satyajit Ray years ago but in a concerted way West Bengal is promoting itself now as a shooting destination for locations to Hollywood and other world producers,” said Sarkar.

Ray’s Charulata was shown today as part of “Cannes Classics”, reminding a new generation of the glory that was once Bengal.

From her apartment in south Calcutta, the film’s female lead, Madhabi Mukherjee told The Telegraph: “It would have been sad for me to have come to Cannes. Satyajit Ray is no longer there, many of those who were involved in the making of Charulata are no longer there, only me and Soumitra Chatterjee (the film’s male lead) are left.”

The film was shown in Salle Buñuel, Palais des Festivals, a prestigious venue. A note on the masterpiece, made in 1964, said: “Charulata has been digitally restored using the original 35mm camera negatives, preserved by the producers R D B and Co.” Extracts from the film are playing on the main screen inside the Indian pavilion and the restoration does indeed look sharp.

Atri Bhattacharya gave his initial reaction to Cannes which he is visiting for the first time: “It’s madness but there is a lot of business being done so it’s good. I have been talking (business) so I have not seen a movie — I have not been on the glamour side. I have met a lot of producers and distributors from India including some NRIs — their first priority is to bring Indian cinema to the US. I said, ‘Why don’t you bring the filmmakers to India and particularly West Bengal?’ ”

Bhattacharya has made some useful contacts: “There was a gentleman from Turkey who, given how scenic Turkey is, was surprisingly interested — he was interested in shooting in West Bengal. I also met the head of the China film bureau. He was talking about the co-productions between China and India and maybe West Bengal. They are looking at coming to West Bengal in September. There are people from South Asia — there are people from Vietnam (whom I met)”.

Bhattacharya has been pointing out the cultural highlights of Bengal. “I do believe apart from the heritage and the location, there is the tremendous cinematic potential of something like Durga Puja — it is one of the most incredible festivals in the whole world. People talk about the carnival in Rio but Durga Puja, in its span and complexity, is possibly much bigger and it is across an entire state.”

“I have been roped in at the last minute,” the secretary admitted. “As of now I will have to carry that burden — I am the nodal officer. We have a very basic unit — I will probably expand it. Before the festival is over (on May 26) I will be mailing all these people (whom I have met in Cannes).”

His plans appear to be practical. “We need to get, at least, a couple of big production houses to come over to West Bengal and go round — we can maybe host them. We need to see what we can give them in technical terms quite apart from the administrative clearances. I can see that happening because this government is positive and decision making is far quicker than it has been before.”

Is Mamata really interested in Cannes, the secretary was asked. “Totally, totally,” he replied. “This was essentially her idea. I had a very major business house — you will pardon me if I don’t tell you the name — approaching me about making a film on her.”

The Telegraph has already been briefed by the Hindujas, who believe Mamata the movie would be a hit.

“We have some plans for the Kolkata Film Festival this year and next year,” Bhattacharya said. “We also need to indentify the two or three critical conferences or festivals (abroad) for commercial purposes. Right now we should may look at South Asia and start small — that also gives us a little practice. We can get our hand in and prepare for the bigger productions (to come to West Bengal).”