Kangal Malsat (War Cry of the Beggars), directed by Suman Mukhopadhyay, was refused certification by the Central Board of Film Certification, under the I&B ministry, last month following a report by the state’s revising committee, chaired by a member of Mamata Banerjee’s culture clan, film-maker Haranath Chakraborty. According to Mukhopadhyay, the stumbling block was the “ending of the film that contained funny but critical comments about Calcutta turning into London and Tata’s departure from Singur”. The state panel feels the scene might “hurt sentiments” and create “unrest” or “violence”.
The Nabarun Bhattacharya novel on which the film is based had been adapted for the stage by Mukhopadhyay in 2006 with financial assistance from the culture ministry. “The play ridiculed or attacked the Left regime. We staged it on campuses and it inspired debates, discussions, questions and objections. The audience was divided into two groups but it was all very healthy. There was no interference by or instruction from the authorities,” recalled Mukhopadhyay.
When he decided to make a film with the same material, he felt it was imperative “to get into contemporary times”. “How could I avoid the advent of the current government especially when we’ve found loopholes in its behaviour, from Ambikesh Mahapatra’s arrest to the attack on newspapers. The two-hour film also talks about the failures of the Left government. The funny remarks on the new government and footage of the new chief minister taking oath span only five to seven minutes. I don’t think the committee got the humour and the spirit of the film, which is of the burlesque genre, and took it as a direct attack,” added Mukhopadhyay, who has sent the film and a letter defending it to the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal in Delhi.
The review committee of the tribunal, which has the power to overrule the CBFC, will watch the film and discuss it with Mukhopadhyay and producer Pawan Kanodia in Delhi on March 4. A week before that happens, Metro presents the objections mentioned in the state panel report and Mukhopadhyay’s rebuttal
"The treatment of the film with unnecessary use of abusive languages, sexuality and casual approach in portraying social movements may hurt the sentiments of many people in our society.”
Director’s defence: The film mostly depicts the lives of people from the lowest social strata. Most of them never go to school, let alone receive the upbringing that would enable and encourage them to use chaste language. Their speech naturally contains swear words and slang. And there is no slang in the film that is unprecedented in Bengali or Indian films. Please remember that 22shey Srabon, Delhi Belly and Gangs of Wasseypur had been certified by the CBFC.
As far as sexuality is concerned, nudity or deep kissing has not been shown. The acts have been suggested cinematically.
No social movement has been portrayed in the film either. The film is a chaotic burlesque, which has nothing to do with any social movement but is about fantasy. Dandobayosh, the omniscient mythical crow in the film, spells out a sequence of events that are political. He talks in a speech about factories in the state being either locked out or in acute respiratory distress while flyovers and shopping malls are being built.
A social movement cannot have anything fatalistic or mythical about it. The chaotic happenings in Kangal Malsat do not have anything to do with the involvement of various groups and individuals in an ever-growing broad-based movement that aims to challenge the ruling parties in elections with fantasy. Therefore, the cinematic treatment of Kangal Malsat cannot hurt the sentiments of anyone who is or will be involved in any social movement.
This film is not a historical depiction of a social movement like Gillo Pontecorvo’s Battle of Algiers or a biopic like Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi. It is more in the vein of Andrzej Wajda’s film Pilate and Others or Stanley Kubrick’s dystopian film A Clockwork Orange.
“The portrayal of Stalin is so irresponsibly done in the film that the dogmatic statement may hurt the sentiments of many Stalinists in the country and may create unrest on public screening.”
Director’s defence: The portrayal of Joseph Stalin is another act of fantasy that is in keeping with the burlesque that the film Kangal Malsat depicts. Stalin appears before a communist party official who swears by him but propounds the theory of scientific democratic revolution, which from the Stalinist point of view is counter-revolutionary.
Both the producer and I fail to understand the logic behind the statement ‘the portrayal of Stalin is so irresponsibly done’. It is obvious that Joseph Stalin is totally opposed to the policies of such communists as portrayed in the film. He is angry and therefore gives the official a dressing down while referring to his own theory of revolution as opposed to the diluted theories of the renegade armchair communists who are putting the ideology to shame.
As a final act of punishment, Joseph Stalin forces this man to gulp down one glass of vodka after another as a result of which the official loses consciousness. The question of possible unrest on screening Kangal Malsat cannot arise because neither Stalin nor the communist ideology is being ridiculed.
The one who is being made fun of is the so-called communist official who and whose likes have diluted revolutionary theories beyond recognition. If anything, the followers of Stalin could only feel happy to see the fantastical appearance of their hero who teaches a falsifier a lesson.
“The way ‘Departure of Tata Company’ has been uttered in the film, it seems to malign or at least look down upon a significant movement of a civic society.”
Director’s defence: Those who opposed Tata’s Nano factory on the fertile soil of Singur and took part in the popular movement that resulted in the defeat of the Left Front government can only feel good about the way the Tata issue has been mentioned in the mythical crow’s monologue.
The wise mythical crow knows that handling multinationals is a few notches beyond his uneducated and plebian son Bhodi’s reach. The mythical crow’s remark only makes fun of his son Bhodi’s foolishness. This comment refers to the recent history of Bengal and is neither a jab at Tata nor a potshot at those who took part in the anti-Nano factory movement.
“The way the Honb’le CM, Ms. Mamata Banerjee’s oath taking ceremony has been shown seems distortion of history and may hurt many common people of West Bengal and create sensation (violence).”
Director’s defence: Both the producer and I are at our wit’s end with this allegation. The scene shows a bored character watching chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s oath-taking ceremony on TV. He does not make any gesture that might be construed even remotely as a sign of insult to the new chief minister. What he ostensibly displays with his body language is ennui and lack of interest. How could that be dubbed as a “distortion of history”? It is not that instead of Mamata Banerjee, someone else is being shown to take oath as the new chief minister. How could a film scene of a bored man silently watching on TV the oath-taking ceremony “hurt many common people of West Bengal”? Is there any law or regulation that a person watching the oath-taking ceremony of a chief minister on TV in a film must display enthusiasm or joy?