“Culture is in Bengal’s blood”

Playwright, director and actor, Basu is, of course also an international award-winning film- maker, whose latest film “Hubba” is ready to be released on January 19.

“Culture is in Bengal’s blood”

Bratyabrata Basu Roy Chowdhury, better known as Bratya Basu is a familiar name in Bengali households. Before he became a politician in 2011, joining Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool which swept to power in the Assembly elections that year, and subsequently becoming MLA and cabinet minister with important charges, he had created waves in Bengal’s theatre world with his iconoclastic and anti-estab- lishment plays. Playwright, director and actor, Basu is, of course also an international award-winning film- maker, whose latest film “Hubba” is ready to be released on January 19. In a sit-down interview with The Statesman’s Dola Mitra, the incumbent Education Minister talks about his new movie, the challenges that his department is facing and other topics, revealing how he straddles his professional, political duties and his passion for theatre and cinema with aplomb.

Q: Your new film “Hubba” is releasing on January 19. The trailers are spinechilling, replete with vio- lent, gory scenes. How far is it a polit- ical insider’s account of the notori- ous nexus that allegedly exists between power and the underworld?

A: “Hubba” is based on the life of the dreaded gangster Hubba Shyamal who was also known as the “Dawood Ibrahim of the Hooghly”. He thrived for a brief period during the former Communist regime and my film is set in those dark times. It is a political film, exposing and critiquing the murky underbelly of criminal nexuses but it is also a satire which is reflected in the humorous dialogues, especially in the way that the characters spew raw swearwords in the Bengali lan- guage.


Q: As West Bengal Education Minister, with all your departmental work and responsibilities, how do you find the time to shoot, edit and of course, direct a movie?

A: Theatre was always my first pas- sion. Cinema too followed. I was a thespian long before I became a politician. However, to me politics and theatre or cinema are not mutu- ally exclusive. It is not difficult to straddle both because they overlap and I am able to dedicate an equal amount of time to each. I can spend the entire day doing my departmental work and then stay up all night work- ing on my writing, my scripts. In fact, I don’t think I will be able to survive without my creative pursuits. Theatre and cinema are like oxygen to me. And in my experience my political or ministerial responsibilities do not deter me from following my creative passion.

Q: The Education Ministry is cur- rently riddled with different chal- lenges, from teachers who are protesting on the streets of the city to the out and out war of words with the Governor of the state on issues ranging from appointments of the Vice Chancellor to structural changes in the system. How do you intend to deal with all these prob- lems?

A: We are already dealing with the problems, the different issues. But the problems plaguing the educational system are not necessarily new ones which have just cropped up during this regime. Most of the problems have been passed down to us and we have inherited them. These are chron- ic problems since the time of the ear- lier, Communist regime and it will take time to redress them. There has to be a holistic solution, rather than kneejerk reactions. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has taken the ini- tiative to address the different prob- lems and has introduced new legisla- tion. (This includes giving rights to the state government to appoint a Vice Chancellor which was earlier only the jurisdiction of the Governor as Chan- cellor of Universities). If anyone has concerns about these, there is a prop- er way to deal with it instead of direct- ly trying to flout the state govern- ment’s ordinances and engaging in a war of words. As for the issue con- cerning the teachers’ protests, Tri- namool All India General Secretary Abhishek Banerjee has already addressed them and has reassured them of a solution at the earliest.

Q: In fact, clearly, you are often brought in to handle situations in difficult times. You were Tourism minister during the transition of Jan- glemahal from a Maoist-affected zone back to a popular tourist spot.

A: I am grateful that I have been given a comparatively free hand to deal with problems. The decisions of course are taken with much deliberation and dis- cussion. However, I think that the charges given to different individuals depend on their ability to handle the responsibilities and emerging difficul- ties.

Q: The Parliamentary elections are coming up later this year. One of the Education Ministry’s achieve- ments has been to introduce under- represented languages into the school syllabuses, such as Alchiki. Do you anticipate this step to likely ease political tensions in certain regions where there has been dissent about language and identity?

A: This is expected to significantly ease tensions related to language and identity because it addresses the dis- sent at its core. For instance, if a stu- dent of North Bengal whose mother tongue is not Bengali, Hindi or Eng- lish, is forced to study those languages and in those languages only as the main language, it is bound to trigger dissent. The Trinamool government, true to its name, has been working on the grassroots to identify the real issues of the people. We have been addressing these issues and the elec- tion results ever since 2011 is a reflec- tion of how it has impacted the elec- torate.

Q: You have flushed your own constituency, Dum Dum, in North Kolkata, with a plethora of cultural programmes. Each winter, since you took charge as the area’s MLA, there are theatre festivals such as the open air “Muktodhara” festival, book fairs, musical programs and other cultural events. There appears to be more motivation behind this than just pas- sion for theatre.

A: Exactly. The cultural events provide platforms to creative people in the districts across Bengal to showcase their talents and be appreciated for their craft. We have revived the dying arts and have injected life into disap- pearing art forms through state patronage. The Trinamool govern- ment’s emphasis on highlighting and bringing out of oblivion the cottage industries and lost traditions has helped hundreds and thousands of artists, folk dancers, musicians and the like to reignite their art. The Muk- todhara Theatre Festival which took place in Dum Dum from December 22 to December 28 witnessed the showcasing of plays from 16 different districts. The people of Bengal don’t want to remain contented only with the very rudimentary food, clothing, housing, water, electricity, etc. These are the basic necessities. Culture is in the blood of the people of Bengal and the expectation, even if tacit, from their elected representative is that these needs too would be met.

Q: Finally, your comments on the INDIA alliance?

A: I would not like to comment on this because this is being worked out at the national level and I am fully con- centrated on the work here in Bengal.