Milan Bhowmik’s 1946 Calcutta Killings had been stuck with the Central Board of Film Certification since September 2016. Bhowmik’s film, which is also to be released in Bengali as Danga The Riot, was recently cleared with a few cuts by the CBFC’s Film Certification Appellate Tribunal and will be released soon with a U/A certificate.
The censor board’s Kolkata office refused a certificate last year after finding the film to be “extremely polarising”, according to a report in The Hindu. In a letter sent to the producers, it was alleged that the movie might cause communal disharmony and that it contained “derogatory and false references” about political leaders of the time, such as Jawaharlal Nehru.
1946 Calcutta Killings is set during the months leading up to the communal riots that engulfed Kolkata from August 16, 1946, following the announcement of the Direct Action Day protest by Muslim League leader Muhammad Ali Jinnah. The protest was in response to the rejection of the Muslim League’s proposal for a separate homeland for Muslims by the Indian National Congress. The riots and killings took over 4,000 lives and displaced even more within a matter of days.
Bhowmik’s film features several historical characters, including Nehru, Jinnah, Bengal’s last prime minister Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, and Syama Prasad Mookerjee, the founder of the Bharatiya Jana Singh (the precursor to the Bharatiya Janata Party). Mookerjee is played by former Film and Television Institute of India chairperson Gajendra Chauhan.
Mookerjee is presented as the film’s hero. The story shows the Hindutva leader during his tenure as president of the Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha. “He was a true secular,” Bhowmik declared. “For him, Hindus, Muslims, everyone was mother India’s child. If he was not secular, he wouldn’t join hands with Fazlul Haq of Krishak Praja Party to fight Jinnah. Do today’s historians and journalists know this? My film will put forth Bengal’s real history in front of the new generation.”
After the censor board refused to certify 1946 Calcutta Killings, the filmmaker moved the Calcutta High Court. Two months later, he withdrew the writ petition and appealed to FCAT.
“The Kolkata CBFC members are useless and they have no knowledge of history,” Bhowmik said. “The censor board members are 30-35 year old boys who have grown up seeing song-dance films. How will they know history?”
On May 8, 2017, FCAT suggested some changes and directed the censor board to come to a decision after Bhowmik submitted the film with the necessary cuts. The Kolkata CBFC office asked Bhowmik to send the film back to the censor board headquarters in Mumbai.
In July, Bhowmik sent to a letter to the Kolkata CBFC office in which he threatened to kill himself if the censor board did not clear his film within a week. The film was sent back to FCAT, which finally gave a nod to the release.
“In the film, Jinnah abuses Nehru telling him, ‘Tum toh ek number ka aiyaash ho’. Sure, Nehru is India’s first prime minister after independence but he wasn’t the prime minister in 1946,” Bhowmik said. “The board cannot understand that. They see that Nehru is getting abused, and there’s Gandhi and Netaji in the film, then there’s Hindu-Muslim riots, so they got scared.”
In the trailer, Mookerjee spouts such lines as “Hindu dharma is sanatan dharma” and “If there’s one religion that can stand the baggage of other religious texts, then it’s Hinduism.” In several scenes, Jinnah is seen rebuking Nehru for not caring about India and blaming him for its destruction. There are graphic scenes of Hindus and Muslims slashing each other on the streets. Some Muslim characters are seen spouting provocative lines such as, “Now no one can stop Bengal from becoming Pakistan”, “Hindus will only survive by name” and “Hindustan ko kabrstan mein dafn karke main Pakistan banaunga.”
Set against this backdrop is a love story between a Muslim man and a Hindu woman. “It’s a clean film, a beautiful love story, a Hindu-Muslim romance, and yet the CBFC had a problem,” Bhowmik claimed.
Bhowmik disagreed that his film demonises Muslims, but added that “Muslims who live on Indian soil and eat Indian food and yet sing Pakistan’s praises should be thrown out of the country”. This is “not a communal sentiment” but a “humanistic sentiment”, the filmmaker said.
Bhowmik is all praise for Gajendra Chauhan – “Such a dear person he is, a good actor and a sensitive human being.” Chauhan is also starring in Bhowmik’s next film, based on the Indian Army. West Bengal governor and BJP politician Kesari Nath Tripathi has written a song for one of Bhowmik’s upcoming films.
Although 1946 Calcutta Killings has hardly received any traction on social media in Bengal or elsewhere, it has found support online among Bengali Hindutva supporters. The Hindu Samhati, among others, has been trying to revive the memories of the 1946 riots in the state for a while.
The director, however, insisted that his film is not politically motivated. “I have taken whatever is happening today in our society and have transported it to 1946,” Bhowmik said. “We are supposed to be secular but political leaders are driving a wedge between us.”
Bhowmik did not specify whom he considered responsible for the communal disharmony he depicts through his film. “People say Modi is a rioter; if so, then Congress is also a rioter, Mamata [Banerjee] is also a rioter,” he said. “Nobody is a rioter but certain political circumstances are making people think on such lines.”