The inaugural ceremony of the Kolkata International Film Festival (KIFF) on Tuesday was imbued with a tinge of politics as chief minister Mamata Banerjee vowed to continue her fight against divisive forces while her leadership qualities, fighting spirit and spartan lifestyle were appreciated by some of the biggest names of the Indian entertainment industry.
“Bengal means the Royal Bengal Tiger.... We will fight,” the chief minister said in her concluding remarks at the inaugural session of the 29th KIFF.
Although she did not make any political statement, her speech was peppered with broad hints that the BJP’s triumph in three heartland states hadn’t dampened her spirit.
The message that the time had come for everyone to unite against the BJP — she had made this point in her initial reaction to the results of the Assembly elections — was woven into her address on Tuesday as she said: “We will have to work together strategically and with ideology.”
Mamata seemed to have a prepared speech with her as she carried a few pages when she walked up to the rostrum, but she spoke extempore.
The words of Salman Khan, the main draw at the programme, must have pleased Mamata and her party — battling a slew of corruption charges — as the superstar said he was astonished when he visited the chief minister’s home on Harish Chatterjee Street on May 13.
“I am jealous of the fact that how can someone in this position live in such a home that’s smaller than mine,” he said, comparing her home with his Galaxy Apartments address in Mumbai.
“When she invited me to visit her home, I wanted to visit only to check whether it is smaller than mine.... And I found it really small indeed,” he added.
Mamata elicited a promise from Salman to be present in the next edition of the KIFF as well and also come to Bengal to shoot films.
Much to Mamata’s pleasure, he announced that the KIFF was the biggest film festival — with 219 films from 39 countries — that he had ever attended.
Her simple lifestyle has not only helped Mamata connect with the electorate in Bengal but had also charmed the likes of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who visited her home on 30B Harish Chatterjee Street in 2000 and met her mother.
There have been some additions and alterations to the address after she became chief minister, but the basic structure has not changed.
A political analyst said that Salman’s comments about her home would add to Mamata’s political capital in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls.
“At a time the BJP is trying to create a narrative around corruption and portray her as the biggest beneficiary of corruption, someone like Salman Khan, who has a huge appeal among the youths, has spoken about her simple lifestyle. This is a big boost to Brand Mamata, which is Trinamul’s biggest strength,” said the expert.
Not just Salman, the other stalwarts of the Indian entertainment industry — veteran actors Shatrughan Sinha and Anil Kapoor and director Mahesh Bhatt — also heaped praise on the Bengal chief minister.
Former Indian cricket captain Sourav Ganguly hailed Mamata for her relentless efforts to promote the film industry.
In his address, Bhatt, known for speaking his mind, focused on “love” before appreciating the Bengal chief minister by stressing that she was doing all the right things. Kapoor mentioned how the Bengal chief minister had an appeal across the country as she was everyone’s “Didi”.
Sinha, the Trinamul MP of Asansol, was characteristically more direct — Kapoor praised him for not being politically correct. After referring to Mamata as the “best chief minister in the country” and thanking her for bringing good people to politics, Sinha seemed to allude to the latest round of Assembly polls.
“These are difficult times…. But we can’t get upset and we have to continue,” said Sinha, who quit the BJP after a long stint with the party primarily due to his differences with Narendra Modi and Amit Shah.
The chief minister made it clear that she had taken note of Sinha’s comments. “Bengal is not afraid.... We love all religions, all creeds,” she said, reiterating her secular credentials. “They can’t defeat us.... We are universal,” Mamata summed up.