IFFI Removes Bengal Minister’s Film From Screening List for 'Spelling Mistake in Email'

The mistake in the spelling of the director's name was not made by the filmmakers, leading them to believe this is political vendetta.

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Kolkata: Can a spelling mistake in the name of the director of a film in an email lead to the removal of the film from the screening list of a festival, even after its selection had been announced? That, too, if the spelling mistake did not occur on the director or the producer’s end?

West Bengal education minister Bratya Basu, who is also a noted theatre personality and filmmaker, raised this question on Thursday after his latest film, Dictionary, was removed from the list of films selected for the Indian Panorama section of the country’s biggest film festival, the International Film Festival of India, which is held in Goa every year.

“Imagine a film being removed even after being selected after the authorities purportedly find a mistake in the spelling of the director’s name,” Basu told the media in Kolkata on Thursday, adding, “It’s nothing more than an excuse. They must have come under pressure from their bosses in New Delhi and therefore came up with their weird reason to remove the film.”

The 52nd edition of the festival, which is jointly organised by the Directorate of Film Festival (DFF) that operates under the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and the state government of Goa, is scheduled to take place between November 20 and 28. The film was supposed to be screened at 10 am on November 22 at an auditorium in Panjim.

The DFF’s website describes the ‘Indian Panorama’ section as “a flagship component of the IFFI, under which the best of contemporary Indian films are selected for the promotion of film art”.

Basu has been serving as a minister in Mamata Banerjee’s government since 2011 in different capacities, but never stopped writing and directing plays and films. Basu’s previous films include Rasta (2003), Tista (2005) and Tara (2010). Though essentially known as a playwright, theatre actor and director, Basu has also acted in more than two dozen films.

It was only on November 5 that Chaitanya Prasad, the additional director general of DFF who also serves as the head of IFFI, wrote to Basu, informing him of the selection and inviting him to the festival venue.

“They kept communicating with us regarding our visit and also seeking our permission for virtual screening even till November 8. Then, all of a sudden, the film gets dropped from the updated list,” Basu said.

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Incidentally, actor-turned-Trinamool Congress (TMC) Lok Sabha MP Nusrat Jahan stars in the film, along with noted actor Abir Chatterjee and Bangladeshi actor Mosharraf Karim. Based on two short stories of eminent Bengali writer Buddhadeb Guha, titled Baba Hoya and Swami Hoya, the film was released in theatres in February.

Speaking to The Wire, the producer of the film, Firdausul Hasan, who also serves as the president of the Film Federation of India, said that the IFFI authorities were yet to formally inform them about the removal of the film from the festival.

“We got to know about it after the film went missing from the list of 25 films selected for the Indian Panorama section uploaded in the festival’s website. I have written to the festival director asking for the reason but am yet to receive a reply,” said Hasan.

He added that selections in film festivals and awards motivate producers to invest in good, meaningful films, and acts like these would demoralise producers. He was all the more surprised because the film neither depicts violence nor deals with controversial subjects regarding politics and religion.

The director and the producer got to know of the case with the spelling mistake from the communications the festival authorities made to the Film Federation of India. The FFI can recommend films for the festival, subject to the juries’ approval. In their recommendation letter, Bratya was mistakenly written as ‘Dratya’.

“All communications from our end were perfect. There was no spelling mistake or any other technical fault anywhere. I have requested in my letter to the festival director that a producer should not be punished for mistakes made by others. And in that case, the festival director also made a mistake by announcing the selection without spotting the technical fault, whatever it was,” Hassan said.

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Basu said that he suspected political vendetta on behalf of the Union government run by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), of which the TMC has been one of the staunchest critics.

“If they think they can silence me by such treatment, they are wrong. I, on behalf of the party, will keep raising pertinent issues,” Basu said. “It has already been featured in multiple film festivals but in this case they must have considered my political identity at the last moment. I don’t give a hoot.”

The Wire has written to Chaitanya Prasad and Tanu Rai, deputy director of DFF in-charge of the Indian Panorama section, seeking their response to Basu’s allegations. The report will be updated as and when we receive a response.