What Bhobishyoter Bhoot Gets Right About the Double Standards of Indian Politicians

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What Bhobishyoter Bhoot Gets Right About the Double Standards of Indian Politicians

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

In a masterful scene in Anik Dutta’s Bhobhishyoter Bhoot (loosely translated to “Ghosts of the Future”), a dead farmer in a gathering of ghosts, announces that he feels more alive after his death. It doesn’t take too long to discern what the director is alluding to with that statement – just take a look at the rate of farmer suicides in the country for a clue. This isn’t the only searing stance that Dutta takes in his latest political satire, which re-released last week after being pulled off in Kolkata a day after its release, back in February. To make matters even better, the Supreme Court recently directed the Mamata Banerjee-led West Bengal government to pay Rs 20 lakh to the producers as compensation for the film’s “unofficial ban” in the state.

Bhobhishyoter Bhoot follows varied individuals from different periods in history, social and linguistic backgrounds who are united in their ghosthood: Every character in Bhobhishyoter Bhoot – a wronged journalist, a forgotten cabaret dancer, an assaulted Marxist, to name a few – examine the injustices meted out to them in their respective times. Although the fable-like film doesn’t explicitly take names, it’s not entirely vague either: The plot’s resemblance to the massacre around us is undeniable. History really does repeat itself and the film essentially unspools how we are stuck in a loop of political muck by being unsparing in its critique of all political camps.

In fact, the West Bengal government acting like a “super-censor” while banning Bhobhishyoter Bhoot on the grounds that it lampoons political parties is testament to the growing intolerance to artistic freedom in the country. Yet, during election season, it also reveals the farcical attitude of Indian politicians, who champion freedom of expression only when it benefits them.

In the film, the ghosts gather in a dilapidated theatre hall called “Baatil Ghor” (even though it is subtitled as “bygone palace”, an accurate translation would be “discarded”), a representation of the voices of reason and rationality that are readily discarded in today’s socio-political landscape. One does not have to dig too far in history to uncover voices that were labeled “seditious” and promptly silenced because they chose not to subscribe to the official narrative. Just last month, in an apparent violation of the Model Code of Conduct, economist Jean Dreze was taken into “preventive custody” for organising a gathering to discuss the ration, pension, and MGNREGA status in Jharkhand. Additionally, Dreze alleged that the police asked him to sign a bond declaring that he had no complaints against the government. Dreze’s arrest isn’t an isolated incident: The term “Urban Naxal” was thrown around for most of last year to crush any form of dissent. And who can erase the memory of Mamata Banerjee terming a student who questioned her policies as a “CPIM Cadre”? It seems as if, Dutta hints that it is the rational Indian who will be the discarded ghost of the future.

After all, Bhobishyoter Bhoot itself was almost killed before its time simply for taking off the rose-tinted glasses that politicians demand we wear forever.

Dutta questions these ideologies that specialise in taking themselves to the extreme: Like the absurdity of making the Hindu cow India’s primary political agenda. On more than one occasion, the film takes a jab at the cottage industry that the cows have led to in the country: In one scene, when a character complains about the blandness of the alcohol, he is told to add some cow piss to it in order to make it taste divine, and in another, someone suggests that gau rakshaks would be doing a better job if they started protecting humans instead. If the recent mob-attack on the Muslim man in Assam is any indication, then the status of cows has risen so far above the price of human lives that our government has come to be “by the people, of the people, for the cows”. As the film posits, political parties have ensured that what is of utmost importance right now is to be a good Hindu and not a good citizen.

One of the film’s important threads is its climactic struggle that revolves around a proposed public film city that is to be built by the ruling party. Yet for the plan to come to fruition, hordes of farmers would need to vacate their lands in exchange for a meagre sum of money. The scene instantly recalls the Singur land acquisition case where thousands of farmers refused compensation and Mamata Banerjee endlessly rallied to make Tata Motors return 800 acres of land to the farmers. Although in the film, the party that is the stand-in for Trinamool is the oppressor. It’s a symbolism that articulates how the gap between “leader” and “ruler” shrinks when one has corruptible power at their disposal – reminiscent of the purity that was synonymous with Mamata Banerjee before her transformation into a canny political mastermind. The film is generously littered with jabs at the CM’s integrity; a sting operation in the film resembles the 2014 Narada sting operation, which revealed that several high-ranking officials of the All India Trinamool Congress were accepting bribes in return for favours.

Bhobhishyoter Bhoot also doesn’t hold back while mourning how non-partisan art has become a victim of the whims of political parties. In the film, a passionate journalist searching for the truth is advised to stay away from any anti-government stance. It’s a scenario that feels more fact than fiction. After all, Bhobishyoter Bhoot itself was almost killed before its time simply for taking off the rose-tinted glasses that politicians demand we wear forever.