Film on Netaji winning National Award relevant to Bengal polls; but Prosenjit remains aloof both from BJP, TMC

While TMC and BJP continued the tussle over Netaji’s legacy and drawing the ‘star cast’ during elections, superstar Prosenjit, now popular for portraying Netaji, has so far remained aloof politically

Prosenjit in a film on Netaji ‘Gumnaami’
Prosenjit in a film on Netaji ‘Gumnaami’

Papri Sri Raman

With more than 70 films under his belt, Prosenjit Chatterjee is a name to contend with in Bengali films, and the world known as Tollywood. Two films where he has played the lead last week won two awards at the 67th National Film Awards. ‘Jestoputra’ won the best screenplay and best music awards while ‘Gumnaami’ won the best adaptation award. Despite trying hard for the past several months, the Bharatiya Janata Party has, however, been unable to get Prosenjit on its side so far. Nor has the Trinamool.

The Trinamool is more sanguine about its star cast; ever since it got quizmaster and television host Derek O’ Brian as party leader, it has been steadily inducting Bengali singers and actors in its ranks and is now no longer new to the stardust.

When the party managed to get the Bengali playback singer Babul Supriyo in its pocket, the BJP began to boast of its strength in Bengal. It also has the daughter of a Bengali mother, Smriti Irani on display, but on the glamour quotient it is hard put to match Mimi Chakraborty and Nusrat Jahan, the two MPs from Trinamool.

Another Bengali superstar Suchitra’s daughter Moonmoon Sen, Tapas Pal, Satabdi Roy, Sandhya Roy, Deboshree Roy, Chiranjeet Chakraborty have all been seen supporting Trinamool during various election caampaigns . Of course, the 2016 WB assembly had the investment banker Mahua Moitra as MLA and Mamata Banerjee has ensured her 2021 pre-poll stage is more star-studded, mostly with professionals in their 40s and 50s. Sayantika Banerjee, Dipankar Dey, director Raj Chakraborty, director-actor Sudeshna Roy, actors June Malia, Kanchan Mullick and Saayoni Ghosh are all in TMC, as are singer Aditi Munshi, actor Subhadra Mukherjee and actor-director Dheeraj Pandit.

Not to be outdone, the BJP is also showing off its star-count with Rupa Ganguly of Mahabharat fame, Locket Chatterjee, Rimjhim Mitra, Anjana Basu and Kanchana Moitra, Rudranil Ghosh, Yash Dasgupta, Payel Sarkar and Srabanti Chatterjee.

However, the induction of the 70+ Mithun Chakraborty has not gained the BJP all that it expected. Mithun is a Bollywood Bengali, a Tamil Nadu businessman and is seen as someone who Mamata sent to Rajya Sabha from the Trinamool; and someone who defected to the BJP. His opening gambit about snakes only made him an amusement park for the media. The party’s inability to also get Saurav Ganguli in its ranks have blunted its edge a little.

Prosenjit, on the other hand, is a different ball-game altogether. He is the son of veteran actor/producer Biswajit who was not only popular in Bengali cinema but was also a huge commercial success in Hindi cinema too in the 1960s and 1970s.

Prosenjit was the child actor in Hrishikesh Mukherjee's Chotto Jigyasa, for which he won the Bengal Film Journalists' Association’s Most Outstanding Work of the Year Award. His first adult lead role was in Bimal Roy's Duti Pata. Prosenjit has vehemently denied any political leaning, but he would have made a significant difference in voter preference, as the BJP has been for several years now trying to tell Bengal that it cares more for Netaji Subhas and his legacy. And in recent years, Prosenjit has become the popular face of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.

Naturally, no one will forget Prosenjit with Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in Chokher Bali. Manoj Bajpayee’s Traffic is the film that highlighted Prosenjit for Hindi film viewers, but his most-viewed film last year was Gumnaami, a film on Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s afterlife as a mysterious mendicant. The story is an adaptation of the best-seller, Conundrum by Chandrachur Ghosh and Anuj Dhar, who have since 2004, researched extensively on Bose and campaigned for India to declassify all archival papers on Bose in government possession. They succeeded to an extent and though the Modi government tried to take the credit for this, Mamata Banerjee was equally vociferous in her claims. In spite of all their efforts, the BJP has not really been able to cash in on Netaji. Netaji’s legacy is a rhetoric noticeably missing in the 2021 West Bengal elections.

In fact, Subhas, like Bhagat Singh, is a character in our history who cannot be classified as just Left or Right, they stride a vast stage that spans the minds and hearts of people from all sections of society, cutting across languages and religions. Their bravery cannot be compromised, nor their practical secular outlook and their choice of close associates like Ashfaqullah Khan or Shah Nawaz Khan.

Shah Nawaz was chosen by Netaji as his last companion during his flight across continents in 1945. He was part of a 1956 commission too, investigating Netaji’s plane accident. However, few recall what Shah Nawaz had said about Netaji at the INA trials: It will not be wrong to say that I was hypnotised by his (Subhas’s) personality and his speeches. He placed the true picture of India before us and for the first time in my life, I saw India through the eyes of an Indian.

Shah Nawaz Khan came from a family rooted near Rawalpindi. Bollywood actor Shah Rukh’s mother was his adopted daughter. Shah Nawaz Khan, a four-time Indian MP, refused to tell what he knew about Netaji’s last day, to the various commissions probing his death in Taipei except what his supreme commander had decided will be the public version.

Prosenjit has essayed Gumnaami Baba or Bhagwanji, believed to be Subhas, with considerable skill. While the TMC and BJP continue a not-too-loud tug of war over Netaji’s legacy, Prosenjit has so far preferred to remain in Gumnaami, politically– an indication that there are somethings no one can take away from Bengal.

(IPA Service)

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