When filmmaker Pradipta Bhattacharya came to Haripada Sahitya Mandir in Purulia in February to attend the first edition of the Junglemahal International Film Festival, he had done his homework on the political scenario of the place and thought he knew what to expect. He was taken by surprise.
“I had visited Jhargram, which falls in the area, and knew there wasn’t any Maoist-related violence there anymore,” says Bhattacharya, who screened his debut feature film Baakita Byaktigyato at the festival. What he was not prepared for was the audience participation. “The hall where my film was screened was filled to capacity. It’s a three-hour-long film and to my surprise not a single person left during the screening. Most of them stayed back after the screening for the audience interaction and asked some pertinent questions too. I was wondering where are these people coming from?” says Bhattacharya.
They came from Bankura, Purulia, Bokaro and even Jamshedpur to attend the festival from February 7 to 9. The festival was a matter of pride for Junglemahal, they said.
“For years we have been in the news for all the wrong reasons. People know Junglemahal as a Maoist stronghold. They assume that it’s violence-ridden and has no cultural significance. We want to change that notion,” says Siddhartha Roy Bhandari, a theatre artiste from the area and a member of Cine dot Manbhum, which organised the film festival.
“We are culturally inclined youths of the area and we want this festival to go from strength to strength,” adds Anirban Banyopadhyay, a member of the organising committee.
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The festival was attended by Trinamool leader Shantiram Mahato, Minister, Self-Help Group and Self-Employment. Stressing that their organisation is completely apolitical, Banyopadhyay says: “He wanted to actively help us with the festival but unfortunately he was busy with the Rajya Sabha elections happening then.”
Eleven movies were screened at the festival, including an Iranian and a Bangladeshi film. “I was amazed at the way people reacted to the Iranian film My Tribe. Since people of this area are not exposed to world cinema, I was apprehensive about their ability to grasp a sensitive film like that,” says film scholar and Head of the Department (Editing) of Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute, Shyamal Karmakar.
A festival such as this can go a long way towards benefiting the economy of a place like Junglemahal, feels Karmakar. “This is a beautiful place and there is no reason why people should shy away from it. Tourism will help develop the area and if we manage to promote this festival properly, there is no reason why it cannot be a destination festival,” he says.