Didi Does Damage Control
The image of Mamata Banerjee’s government has hit rock bottom. Her inappropriate and inadequate comments after three women were raped in different incidents in the state has caused outrage and created media furore. Last week when a local television channel interviewed a woman who alleged on camera that she had been raped and her story was beamed live, the Bengal chief minister first called it “raking up stale news” and then said that the “whole thing has been staged” in order to malign her government. Calcutta commissioner of police R.K. Pachnanda faithfully seconded her. Subsequently, however, when joint commissioner of police Damayanti Sen of the detective department established that the woman had indeed been sexually assaulted, Banerjee was reportedly furious because of the loss of face and had Sen and another top police officer speak to the media and clarify that the CM never interfered in the case. The news out in the public domain however was that Sen single-handedly pursued the truth on her own hunch in spite of her police top brass’s assertions to the contrary. In fact, the top cop’s press conference which was meant to do damage control did more harm for Banerjee’s image than help it. The next day’s newspapers launched a series of scathing attacks on the CM’s attempt to cover-up her own faux pas and underplay Sen’s role in solving the case. What the chief minister should understand is that while rising crime in the state is not good for the image of the state, trying to sweep it all under the carpet and into the cupboards will only make thing worse. The skeletons will tumble out.
'Politicise and Sensationalise'
Even the Bengal governor, M.K. Narayanan, has expressed concern about the increasing number of rapes in the state. But careful not to antagonize the state government, he averred that the Chief Minister is equally concerned. He said that the incidents had to be acted on—probed, and the guilty punished—rather than politicised or sensationalised. Indeed, the truth is that not always the opposition parties, or even the media for that matter, are above these propensities—to politicise or sensationalize respectively—and I don’t think that the pursuit of the truth behind such incidents is always driven by concern for the victims or for society. It goes without saying that the members of the Bengal opposition did not miss this opportunity to ridicule the CM but it is not that rape was unheard of during their 34-year rule. (Though admittedly no Left leader perhaps had ever delivered pre-emptive verdicts about the crime being staged and subsequently proven wrong by own police).
And just as opposition parties thus politicise issues, the media too often sensationalises. And ‘sensationalism’ could be detrimental for society. Perhaps in ethical journalism detailed descriptions about the way a crime is committed should not be revealed, just as the identity of the victim is not revealed. There is an uncanny similarity between the first and the second incidents of rape that shook Bengal in the past couple of weeks. The second incident took place just two days after the media brought out minute details of the way a woman was sexually assaulted in a car on Park Street. In the second, a poor rag picker was brutally assaulted also in a moving car and also thrown out on the side of the road. She later died in a hospital. I can’t help but think that the perpetrators of the second incident had not only got ideas from this much publicised—the details of the Park Street incident were all over the news channels and the print media—earlier incident and got emboldened by the apparent apathy of the administration.
Having said that, it must be noted that if it wasn’t for the media’s relentless pursuit of the Park Street case—front page reports everyday as well as prime time television programs—the police may not have swung into action in the way that it did (especially after the CM’s irresponsible comments). But the media has the responsibility to remember that future rapists, murderers and other criminals are reading, listening and watching too. They shouldn't get ideas for their criminal intent from media reports. That would defy the very purpose of the press.
The Charge-sheet At last
Finally the police have filed charge- sheets against the AMRI accused. Answers to some of the disturbing questions that have been on people’s minds since January 10, when 93 people—mostly patients of the hospital—choked or burnt to death when a fire broke out in the basement of the building, have been finally answered in the 1,285-page charge-sheet. One of the questions related to whether there was a time gap between when the fire started and when the fire department was informed and the answer that has emerged is that yes there was a delay. A delay of one hour and forty minutes. The fire started at 2:30 am and the fire brigade was called at 4:10 am. The hospital has been held responsible in the charge-sheet for allowing the fumes to spread across the seven floors for such a long time without calling the fire department. The central AC was on—helping the toxic smoke to spread—but the fire alarm was off. This is because, it has been suggested that the kitchen smoke very often set off false alarms and the sprinklers did not work properly. The fire was sparked off, accidentally, by some sort of a “glowing object” like a cigarette butt that had not been stubbed out. The basement that had been intended to be the car park had been converted to a store-cum-office for the hospital as a cost-cutting exercise. The fire started in a part of the basement where cotton and bandages used to be stored. Another part of the basement—which comprised 20 rooms—housed the radiotherapy unit and had been allegedly built illegally but then regularized by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation. The central staircase of the hospital used to be locked because the management feared that patients might flee without paying bills. Apparently, Preeta Banerjee, vice president (administration) had suspended a guard for calling the fire brigade a few months ago (possibly fearing that negative media attention would tarnish brand image) and this fear prevented guards on duty that night from informing the fire brigade. According to the charge-sheet the directors may have been aware of different safety violations but their approval in flouting regulations have been verbal rather than written. The charge-sheet has named 16 people and they have been charged with offences that can jail them for life. They include nine owners, two doctor directors, the executive director and four managers.
After a successful run of several weeks Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury’s Aparajita Tumi finally appears to have gone from Calcutta’s movie theatres. In spite of its success, I think the film, his third Bengali feature, disappoints especially when you compare it to his earlier ones—Antaheen and Anuranan, which won him four national awards in 2009 including best film. Based on a novel by Sunil Ganguly, Aparajita Tumi (which translates into “Unvanquished, You”) attempts to explore hollowness of relationships but fails to reach out and touch your heart mainly because the characters, through whom the theme is meant to unfold, don’t come across as real people. Set inexplicably (other than perhaps to capture the breathtakingly beautiful western coastal America), in the United States a couple finds itself drifting apart for no apparent reason other than an overwhelming purposeless of their lives. While Kuhu, the protagonist (played by Padmapriya Janakiraman), goes through the motions of life, looking after home, husband and children, her husband Pradeep (played by Prosenjit) is unable to adjust to the growing disenchantment with the mundane. So when Ushashi (played by Kamalinee Mukherjee), a lonely woman who could have been an actress but finds herself trapped in an impotent marriage seduces him, he breaks free and runs to her. Unfortunately the actors don’t do full justice to the situations, the emotions, the actions that are so intricately woven into the fabric of such a story. Much like Kuhu herself, they go through the motions without appearing to fully identifying with the characters. The pace too is too slow and it never really picks up, not even when characters are in crises. But then the characters don’t really grow on you so their crises remain superficial. However, the cinematography is excellent and the powerful visual experience is the most memorable aspect of the film.