West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee with actors Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya Bachchan, Vidya Balan, Sharmila Tagore, Moushumi Chatterjee, Prosenjit Chatterjee , Sandhya Roy and others during the inauguration of the 21st Kolkata International Film Festival in Kolkata on Nov 14, 2015.
India’s plurality and greatness in diversity resonated here at the inaugural of the 21st edition of the Kolkata International Film Fest as megastar Amitabh Bachchan on Saturday laid strong emphasis on cinema’s role in communication in the wake of controversies over communal prejudices dividing the world.
The overarching theme endorsed at the opener, through the melodies and Big B’s speech, was pride in plurality and acceptance of diversity.
The ceremony started in style with a session of fusion music titled “Home and The World” directed by percussionist Bikram Ghosh.
The East-West fusion saw American saxophonist George Brooks, Indian classical musician Rashid Khan and others deliver renditions of themes from Hollywood hits “The Godfather”, “Titanic” and “Mission Impossible” as well as Bollywood classic “Abhimaan”.
Special guest Sharmila Tagore and guests of honour Jaya Bachchan, Vidya Balan and Moushumi Chatterjee lauded the musicians for the spectacular show.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee presided over the function, while veteran Bengali actresses Madhabi Mukherjee and Sandhya Roy also graced the event.
Following tradition, Big B began his inaugural speech with a comprehensive history, packed with anecdotes of Indian cinema and its umbilical ties to Bengal’s rich literature and culture.
Sharing snippets of information on the contribution of Bengal to Indian cinema, the movie icon stressed the role of films as the “most pervasive medium of communication in entertainment”.
“Films remain the most pervasive form of communication in entertainment in the contemporary world and now more than ever we need to talk to each other, to listen to each other and understand ourselves in relation to the world and cinema is the best medium for doing this,” Bachchan said.
Quoting Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore’s verses from the national anthem, Big B said the lyrics highlight “India’s diversity and equality”, “… at a time when cultures are being questioned and prejudices against communities are dividing the world”.
Bachchan reiterated Indian cinema’s prowess in showcasing “plurality” and “diversity” throughout his speech.
“These early films used entertainment as a language to speak to the audience across national, class, economic and racial lines and helped immensely in highlighting shared cultural values and idealistic aspirations and understanding of good and evil.
“… most importantly the banishment of communal prejudices and hatred,” Big B said.
Talking about legendary filmmakers such as Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Guru Dutt and Shakti Samanta, who had connections with Bengal, Bachchan said the state’s strength has always been its “intellectual integrity and immense open-mindedness” as well as “deep belief in equality and social justice”.
Banerjee also spoke against intolerance.
“Tolerance is life. Intolerance is not acceptable to us,” she said.
Additionally, women power was in full force at the inaugural with Sharmila, Jaya and Balan raising a toast to KIFF’s competitive segment on films helmed by women directors.
“It’s fabulous that the competition focuses on women directors and I think this is the time of women power and goddess power and what could be better than Kolkata to start this,” Balan said about the international competition.
While the “Kahaani” actress reminisced her first tryst with India’s second oldest fest, Jaya expressed gratitude that Sharmila was responsible for her foraying into films as a teenager in Satyajit Ray’s “Mahanagar” in 1963.
“I am here today because of Rinku di (Sharmila Tagore). She is the one who took me to Manik kaku (Ray) and told him that I have got your girl for ‘Mahanagar’,” quipped Jaya.
In reciprocation, Sharmila lauded Jaya’s “spontaneity” and her zeal to always wanting to become an actress.
Sharmila, who is heading the jury that will select the best film and director from among 14 short-listed entries by women filmmakers, also endorsed Balan’s views.
As many as 149 films by 137 directors from 61 countries will be screened across 12 venues in the week-long extravaganza organised by the Bengal government.
The fest concludes on November 21.