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Might to madness

 | April 20, 2012

The West Bengal government has come down hard on a movie promotional poster showing a woman revealing her bare back.

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There are pockets in India that are foolish enough to drag the nation back into the dark days of prissiness.

West Bengal under its new Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress (an ally of the federal coalition led by the Congress), has been repressive, even fascist in recent months.

Vikram Bhatt’s erotic thriller, “Hate Story”, has just fallen foul of Banerjee’s administration – though some ministers aver that it has got nothing to do with the government. It is the people, they say, who are furious. And who are these people? Supporters of the Trinamool Congress, one is told!

And the issue is as banal as a woman revealing her bare back in the promotional posters of the film.

On the ruling of the Calcutta High Court, the posters are being painted blue in order to “clothe” her – in a country where thousands of women are so poor that they cannot cover themselves adequately.

The woman on the posters is the movie’s lead actress, Paoli Dam, a Bengali making her Bollywood debut with “Hate Story”.

Justice Dipankar Dutta of the High Court refused to stay an order by the West Bengal Board of Censorship, which had directed the distributors not to display the posters exhibiting Dam in sensuous postures.

The board termed two posters “obscene and provocative”. One of them shows Dam’s bare back and the other captures her between a man’s legs.

Bhatt quipped during a television interview on Wednesday: “If I make a movie on football, I will have a football on the posters. But this is about sex and so a bare body will be on the posters to tell people what my film is all about.”

“Hate Story” is about a woman’s wrath and vengeance, and how she uses sex as a weapon to find her way from journalism to prostitution.

A more serious misdemeanour

The poster controversy came on the heels of a more serious misdemeanour a couple of weeks ago, when Banerjee’s government arrested a university professor, merely because he had shared online a cartoon lampooning Mamata. The professor of chemistry at the prestigious Jadavpur University, Ambikesh Mahapatra, was accused of raping a woman, spreading social evil and disrupting peace.

Later, it was found that Mahapatra as the secretary of a housing society, where he lives, had stopped a Trinamool Congress-supported organisation from supplying building materials. The party’s goons got angry. Therein lies the real cause.

This ugly incident was followed by another equally sordid one. Eminent scientist Partho Sarothi Ray was arrested and kept at the Alipore Jail for 10 days, because he had “been part of a peaceful demonstration against the eviction of slum-dwellers in eastern Kolkata”.

But the fact is, Ray was not even present at the demonstration; he was far way at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research.

Sheer madness

While both these arrests have drawn the severest of condemnation from intellectuals around the world, including Noam Chomsky, Banerjee seems to be undaunted in her authoritarian attitude.

After sacking the Union Railway Minister (from her party) last month, because he did not toe her line in presenting the Union Rail Budget, she transferred the Joint Police Commissioner of Kolkata to an obscure post.

His crime? He had cracked a Park Street (a fashionable area in Kolkata) rape case – and had in the bargain proved Banerjee wrong. She had concluded something else, and had gone to town with her findings.

Sadly, Banerjee appears to be one of those who can do no wrong – and hence can brook no dissent or criticism. Some weeks ago, she asked state libraries to remove all those newspapers critical of her governance, a measure seen as censorship.

The West Bengal electorate, fed up of 34 years of Marxist (mis) rule in West Bengal (the last days of the government saw the party’s thugs go on the rampage in the countryside), had hoped that the Trinamool Congress would be a better bet. But well, that was not to be.

Miss Banerjee’s rule is widely being described as sheer madness, a horrible hop from the frying pan of Marxists’ unmitigated violence to Mamata’s fire.

Gautaman Bhaskaran is a Chennai-India based author, columnist and film critic, and can be contacted at [email protected]. He is an FMT columnist.


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