Tollyganj: From box office to ballot box, where stars cross paths

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THE political battlefield in West Bengal is a star-studded affair this time, with names from its film and television industries arrayed on both sides of the divide. Now the rift is also playing out in the very home of Tollywood — the Tollyganj Assembly constituency in South Kolkata that votes on April 10.

The TMC, which has assiduously courted stars in its climb to power, counts Tollyganj as among its strongholds, having won the seat since 2001. For the last three elections, it has been won by the party’s Aroop Biswas, the West Bengal PWD Minister.

However, in the BJP corner this time is a name with as much star power — MP, Union minister and popular singer Babul Supriyo, counted by some as among BJP chief minister candidates. The Sanyukta Morcha’s candidate is a name as at home in Tollyganj: actor Debdoot Ghosh.

The Bengali film industry, with its neo-realist stories, was once considered solidly Left-aligned. During his time as chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee kept the Information and Broadcasting portfolio to himself.

The TMC’s outreach to Tollywood was led by its local strongman Biswas. Over the years, actors Dev, Moon Moon Sen, Shatabdi Roy, Chiranjeet Chattopadhyay, Mimi Chakraborty, Nusrat Jahan crossed over to the party, with many of them fielded as candidates to both the Assembly and Parliament. In the TMC’s 10 years of power, film stars have been a constant presence in cultural events of the state government as well as the party’s annual Martyrs’ Day rally on July 21.

This time the TMC has fielded popular actors Soham Chakraborty, Sayantika Banerjee, Koushani Mukherjee, June Maliah, Kanchan Mullick, Lovely Maitra, Sayani Ghosh; singer Aditi Munshi and filmmaker Raj Chakraborty as its candidates. Samajwadi Party MP Jaya Bachchan has been campaigning for the party.

However, looking for recognisable names in Bengal, the BJP has also gone about acquiring the same from Tollywood. Many have joined the BJP, and actors such as Payel Sarkar, Srabanti Chatterjee, Yash Dasgupta, Papiya Adhikari, Tanushree Chakraborty and Anjana Basu are contesting on BJP tickets.

Yesteryear Bollywood star Mithun Chakrabarty joined the BJP amidst much fanfare on March 7, and has been campaigning for its star candidates.

In July 2019, a new organisation called the Eastern India Motion Pictures and Cultural Confederation, to represent the interests of people working in Tollywood, was launched in the presence of West Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh. TMC MLA Biswas and his brother Swarup Biswas hold key positions in other bodies such as the Eastern India Motion Pictures Association and Federation of Cine Technicians and Workers of Eastern India.

Supriyo says he is confident of winning Tollyganj by “40,000-50,000 votes”. “Aroop Biswas and his brother Swarup reign over the Bengali film industry and this constituency. Nothing happens here without their approval and consent. In the end, the people are suffering. It is very sad. There is a need to provide clean drinking water to the people, especially in slum areas. The Tolly Nullah (canal) needs immediate cleaning.”

Home to the famed Technicians Studio, Indrapuri Studio and New Theatres 1 studio where renowned filmmakers Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Ritwik Ghatak and later directors Rituparno Ghosh, Goutam Ghosh and others shot their films, Tollyganj is also a study in contrasts.

If the mushrooming of film studios here since before Independence lends it a distinctive sheen, the constituency is as well known for the highly polluted Tolly nullah, popularly known as Adi Ganga, that doesn’t just run through the heart of Bengali cinema but also past Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s house in Kalighat. The canal continues to receive untreated sewage and waste, and the National Green Tribunal’s intervention in the past few years has barely made any difference.

When there is high tide in the Hooghly river, the nullah overflows, inundating adjoining areas. Among the worst affected are the slum dwellers, who live along the canal. Says a resident, refusing to be named, “The nullah stinks and is a breeding ground for mosquitoes. There has never been any serious work to clean it.”

Sitting MLA Biswas contests this, claiming there has been a lot of development under the Trinamool, and dismissing the challenge posed by Supriyo. In the 2016 Assembly polls, Biswas had won Tollyganj by 9,896 votes. Even during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, when the BJP made major gains in Bengal, the TMC was ahead in this segment.

“From roads and electricity to water, all development works have been done by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. People can see it. They don’t have to listen to leaders making false promises like Rs 15 lakh in bank accounts or 2 crore jobs per year,” he says, talking about some of the BJP promises.

The TMC has also been playing the “outsider” card, saying the patrons of Bengali culture in Tollyganj could never vote for a party like the BJP.

Sanyukta Morcha’s Ghosh, who has been working as an actor for over a decade, has seen the film industry from up close — unlike his more illustrious rivals. His aim, he says, is to raise the standard of the film studios to “international level”. “A large number of world-famous Bengali filmmakers worked here. The condition of these studios does not match the standards of Bengal’s golden era of cinema. Besides, the people of the constituency need basic amenities such as clean drinking water, drainage system and good roads,” says Ghosh.



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