Much like the big fish that swallows the small fish in the depths of the ocean, Hollywood has often gobbled up small, independent European and even Asian cinema.
Similarly, Bollywood is India's big brother - whose money and muscle power have been the intimidating obstacles for the country's other cinemas. A time came when Telugu, Kannada, Bengali, Malayalam and even Tamil films shamelessly aped Bollywood, which was already a copy of Hollywood.
However, there were intervals in this business of aping - when movies from Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Bengal tried to get back to their own distinct roots. And they succeeded to a fair degree in getting audiences back.
But what happens when a big banner Mumbai production house decides to dub one of its premiere works in the local language of a state? This is precisely what is happening in Bengal
, much to the chagrin of the local cinema industry.
When the trailer of Gunday opened some weeks ago in Bengal, it caused both joy and sorrow - perhaps more distress than delight. Set in the 1970s and 1980s Calcutta (as it was then called), Gunday captures the mood and essence that were singularly Bengali.
Visuals of one of Kolkata's many splendours, Howrah Bridge, the leisurely sauntering tramcars (the only city where they still live), and the signboards in the artistic looking Bengali alphabets were alluring to the Kolkatan.
However, when the main stars like Ranveer Singh (seen in another Bengal-centric work, Lootera) and Priyanka Chopra started speaking in Bengali, there were gasps and a sense of dismay in the industry. More than this, Gunday dubbed in Bengali caused insecurity and fear. Even the songs were in Bengali and Gunday was coming from one of the most powerful Mumbai studios, Yash Raj Films
Many in the Bengali movie world saw this as an encroachment - even as an invasion into their blissful existence ever so often pepped up with the melodious Aamar Sonar Bangla (Our Golden Bengal). Gunday's Bengali songs are available on YouTube.
There is little doubt that Yash Raj Films (YRF) is trying to get into the non-Hindi sphere. Along with the YRF Bengali channel, the movie house is also running YouTube channels in Tamil and Telugu. Last year, it released Dhoom 3 in Tamil (100 screens) and Telugu (700 screens) along with the Hindi version. Earlier, Chennai Express - set in Tamil Nadu with Tamil characters - was dubbed in Tamil, and this edition did extremely well in a state where Hindi is still not easily spoken.
Besides, YRF is planning to remake Band Baja Baraat in Tamil. Called Aha Kalyanam, it will hit theatres at the end of this year.
All this has understandably flustered Bengali actors, directors and producers. Celebrities like Jeet, Dev, Parambrata Chattopadhyay, June, Payel Sarkar, Haranath Chakraborty, Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury, Srijit Mukherji, Raj Chakraborty, Mahendra Soni, Shrikant Mohta, Ashok Dhanuka, Nispal Singh and Sudeshna Roy among others gathered at a Kolkata studio to protest against this so-called disaster.
Ali Abbas Zafar-helmed Gunday
is spiced with he-men, glam dolls, great style and peppy dialogues that will undoubtedly enamour the multiplex crowds. Maybe the rural populace will also join in. And then we have that brilliant actor called Irrfan Khan as a cop in times that were known for sheer ruthlessness in Bengal. It was the time of the emergence of Naxalites. It was the time when cops were butchered on the streets. It was also the time when hundreds of educated young men followed Charu Mazumdar, and dug their own graves in bloody police encounters.
The Bengali film industry is perhaps afraid that it will face a future as bleak as the young men of Kolkata. And unlike Tamil Nadu or even Andhra and Kerala, Bengal has no great heroes - like Surya, Rajnikanth, Mahesh Babu, Mohanlal and Mammootty. In fact, Bengali stars have often modelled themselves on their Mumbai counterparts.
And this from the land of Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak - whose purity of form, style and story enraptured millions across continents. They continue doing so.(Gautaman Bhaskaran grew up in what was then Calcutta, in what was essentially Bengali in the way it thought and lived.)