Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee attended the 25th Kolkata International Film Festival (KIFF) on Friday in presence of a galaxy of star actors and directors from Bollywood, Bengali cinema and abroad. Superstar Shah Rukh Khan, who was accompanied by Banerjee and yesteryear Bollywood actor Rakhee Gulzar, inaugurated the festival by lighting the ceremonial lamp.
Germany’s Oscar-winning director Volker Schlondorff and BCCI president and former India captain Sourav Ganguly were also present.
Terming the KIFF the ‘finest’ with Bengal’s unmatched hospitality making a mark of its own, Banerjee lauded the filmmakers of the state for upholding the message of unity in diversity for decades and added that the state will hold its head high and fight to live.
“We are not jealous of others and do not have any negative attitude. We have a positive approach to everybody. We will continue to fight and never bow our heads before anyone,” Banerjee said at the inauguration ceremony.
Bengal has produced a number of award-winning filmmakers and the largest number of Nobel Prize winners in the country, she said at the event. Banerjee’s comment was an apparent answer to Union Home minister Amit Shah’s statement that Bengal is lagging behind in scientific and cultural development.
“Bengal is number one in terms of giving the country award-winning filmmakers. The state has produced the largest numbers of Nobel Prize winners in the country. We are number one in scientific and cultural development in the country,” Banerjee said without naming either Shah or the BJP.
Bollywood megastar Amitabh Bachchan, who has been a regular at the inauguration of the KIFF for the last few years, failed to make it this time because of his ill health. “Amitabhji comes here every time. But he could not turn up. Since last night he is unwell. So doctors have restricted his movements. He is suffering a lot since last night,” Banerjee said. She also added that she got a message from Bachchan early on Friday morning informing her about his indisposition.
“He contacted me, Jaya ji (Jaya Bachchan) also. .. We pray for his long life and good health. “Today though he could not come, I believe Amitji’s mind is with this festival. We cannot think of this film festival without him,” she said.
Banerjee lauded filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt, who was one of the invitees at the programme, saying he is very outspoken and dares to speak his mind when others are scared to do so. In apparent support to Banerjee’s call for equal importance to all regional languages, Bhatt said no one should impose a language on others and must allow everyone to speak their mother tongue.
Bhatt said the greatness of India lies in its diversity. Taking the cue from Bhatt, Shah Rukh said stories of films will always bind us together and questioning about each other’s individuality should stop. Thanking the Chief Minister, Rakhee Gulzar said it was not an easy task to make everyone happy with the kind of hospitality that Bengal extends towards the guests.
There were emotional moments between Shah Rukh Khan and Rakhee as the latter tried to teach SRK a few Bengali words, and picked up one of Rabindranath Tagore’s songs “O Amar Desher Mati”, for the lesson. SRK repeated the lines verbatim, only to confess in the end that he didn’t understand a word of what he said.
It also gave the actors an opportunity to remember their “Baazigar” days. An emotional Rakhee hugged Shah Rukh, as everyone from Sourav Ganguly to Banerjee looked on. The Chief Minister also “scolded” King Khan in a jest, warning him that if he decides to stop attending the film festival, she is going to be extremely “miffed”. Satyajit Ray’s “Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne” was the inaugural film of the festival. Altogether, 367 films, 214 feature films and 153 short documentary work from 76 countries will be screened during the festival that will be held till November 15 in 17 venues across the state.