Monday, 30th October 2017

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The 'unthinkable': A Nandan minus its mascot

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  • Published 1.01.11

If “change” does come, a 300sqft carpeted room on Nandan’s second floor may feel a void. The Satyajit Ray Archive is not an official chamber for the chief minister or culture minister. Still, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had made it his own after it came up in 1995; till then he did not have a room to himself at Nandan. The archive shifted three years ago, but Bhattacharjee has stayed put.

At the room’s centre is a large wooden table surrounded by six leather-cushioned chairs. The two remotes lying on the table — one for the TV inside a cabinet and the other for the new DVD player — bear witness to the chief minister’s passion for films.

A rack is stuffed with old videocassettes and CDs. Photographs of Bhattacharjee in myriad moods are pinned to the soft boards. This is where he would arrive two to four times a week to unwind, at least till last year, and spend two to three hours.

Would he keep coming if he were to lose the election? Most believe not.

“I don’t think he would do something that could hurt his dignity,” said a former member of the Nandan general body. Another former official cited a small instance from the past.

“Bhattacharjee laid Nandan’s foundation stone in 1980 but he was missing the day of its inauguration: September 2, 1985. After losing the 1982 elections, he did not step into Nandan till he had regained his post as culture minister in 1987.”

Officials said Bhattacharjee watches films in the room in between reading and writing.

“A telephone, a computer and a cup of tea without milk or sugar was all he needed as he watched films,” said former Nandan director Anshu Sur.

This is where a Sunil Gangopadhyay or Soumitra Chatterjee would meet him. “He has often proofread his writings on Manik Bandopadhyay or Jibanananda Das here. Private discussions with dignitaries were often held in that room,” said Sanjay Mukhopadhyay, professor of film studies at Jadavpur University .

Would Bhattacharjee be missed if he stopped coming?

“Nandan was Buddhababu’s brainchild. Right from the engineer drawings to implementation, he was the initiator,” said a former member of the advisory board.

Sur suggested wistfully: “Just as Obama asked Bill Clinton to support his cause, if there’s a new government, it should make Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee an adviser on the running of Nandan and the film festival.” Officially, Bhattacharjee has never had much of a role in Nandan’s running: the CEO looks after the day-to-day affairs while the advisory board takes the policy decisions. The Chalachchitra Utsav Society chooses the film festival fare.

Yet Bhattacharjee, who is not on any Nandan committee, has taken important decisions.

“Sometimes when we felt certain films were controversial or were unsure about their quality, we’d seek his opinion. The final say on the opening film has always been left to him,” said an advisory board member. “It wasn’t because he was the culture minister or chief minister but because of his knowledge of films.”

A source said it was Bhattacharjee’s initiative that led to the birth of the Calcutta Film Festival in 1995 and got “film greats like Fernando Solanas and Gillo Ponticarvo to visit this regional fest”.

But the chief minister has hardly been coming to Nandan since the 2009 election debacle, the former advisory board member said. “It’s mainly because of his absence that Nandan looks uncared-for and the film festival is a sorry affair.”

“Buddhadeb was keen that the film fest society was made up of artistes, critics and scholars and not just government officials. But the arrival of new members in the Nandan administration, who are more interested in revenue than quality, has led to negative changes,” said a filmmaker who has gradually withdrawn from Nandan over the past three years.

But a current advisory panel member said: “If the government changes and Nandan fails to sustain its position, then I have to say that Nandan has failed as an institution. If it has to depend on one man even after 25 years, it should stop existing.”