“…Why do I need a visa for Bangladesh? Why does Habibur Rahman Khan, the Bangladeshi co-producer of my films, need a visa for India? It’s absurd. And it’s political. I don’t need a visa for Nepal which has a different language and culture. But Bengalis living across the border need visas. Wah!…”

Eminent Bangalee film maker from India, Mr Goutam Ghosh, expresses his take on Indo-Bangla relationship. Wish his Bnagladeshi counterparts among Bangalee progressive society could think as eloquently and as clearly as Goutam Ghosh does. But unfortunately Bangalee progressives thought process remains confined in a very small box. This box-thinking makes our cultural elites blindly defend every action ( right or wrong) of India and blame a so called ‘anti India mindset of Bangladeshis’ for all bad bloods starting from building Tipaimukh dam to killing of Felanis to India’s noncompliance to signed treaties to creation of unfair trade/ tarriff barriers against Bangladesh to banning of Bangladeshi TV channels in India and so on.

The full interview of of Goutam Ghosh follows belows…

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Mon, Sep 5th, 2011 5:51 pm BdST

Eminent film director Goutam Ghosh’s one foot is in India; the other virtually in Bangladesh. Straddling two nations with a rare elan, Ghosh is a believer in what he calls the composite culture of the two Bengals – Bangladesh and West Bengal. He directed two award-winning and commercially successful India-Bangladesh productions: Padma Nodir Majhi in 1993 and Moner Manush in 2010. Both have left an indelible mark in the Bengali world.

Although Ghosh lives in Calcutta, he proudly traces his family roots to Faridpur and says that he loves to breathe the air in Bangladesh where he is perfectly at home.

S. N. M. Abdi, a bdnew24.com Contributing Editor in India interviewed Ghosh ahead of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Bangladesh — a country Ghosh seriously considers his own. Excerpts:

Q: What are the images Bangladesh conjures up for you?

A: I visualise Bangladesh as the epicenter of a Greater Bengal encompassing West Bengal, parts of Assam and Bengalis scattered all over the world irrespective of their religion. The common threads are the language we speak and our composite culture.

Bangladesh conjures up images of a land of two great rivers — Ganges and Brahmaputra — a land I love and adore.

Q: What’s your advice to Manmohan Singh and Shiekh Hasina ahead of Dr Singh’s landmark visit to Bangladesh?

A: They should instil the spirit of SAARC. Every year I read of SAARC summits but the result is zero. Why can’t SAARC countries be like the European Union? Why do I need a visa for Bangladesh? Why does Habibur Rahman Khan, the Bangladeshi co-producer of my films, need a visa for India? It’s absurd. And it’s political. I don’t need a visa for Nepal which has a different language and culture. But Bengalis living across the border need visas. Wah!

The very first thing Dr Singh and Shiekh Hasina must do is create a visa free regime between Bangladesh and India.

They must revive old transportation and communication links cut off in 1947 when British India was partitioned. It will boost economic growth. Our north-east will become prosperous.

Bangladesh must be allowed to export to India as much garments as it wants to. Then you and I can purchase superb shirts and trousers cheaply in Calcutta. Bangladeshi bakery products are so good. Why aren’t they available in India? Biscuits, cakes, cookies and sliced bread made in Bangladesh.

There is a long list of items Bangladesh is forbidden to export to India. It’s called the Negative List. It’s the height of negativity. The so-called Negative List should be immediately scrapped if Dr Singh and Sheikh Hasina want to send a positive signal.

There are air and train links between Dhaka and Calcutta. But Dhaka and Agartala are not connected. What a shame! There should be flights between every Bangladeshi city and Guwahati, Aizawl and Imphal.

India should display the generosity and magnanimity of a Big Brother, or rather an elder brother who is more resourceful than his sibling.

Q: India mysteriously doesn’t honour the promises it makes to Bangladesh.

A: You are right. There is a lobby in Delhi of corporates and bureaucrats which blocks the rationalisation of trade with Bangladesh. The lobby opposes friendly and brotherly relations with Bangladesh. Unless the lobby is defanged Bangladesh and India cannot come closer. I hope Dr Singh gives the destructive lobby a piece of his mind before flying to Dhaka.

Q: Does the film industry in Bangladesh and India stand to gain immensely from cordial bilateral ties?

A: Absolutely. At present, only films co-produced by Indian and Bangladesh financiers can be released commercially in the two countries. But a Bengali film made independently in Dhaka or Calcutta cannot be released in the other country. Short-sighted government regulations stand in the way. So Bengali film makers are unable to exploit the combined Bengali film market which happens to be bigger than the Tamil film market! There is a world market for Bengali cinema.

The India-Bangladesh joint ventures I directed — Padma Nadir Majhi and Moner Manush — not only recovered costs but made handsome profits for their Bangladeshi and Indian producers. But the picture is not completely rosy. In 1993, Raisul Islam Asad, the hero of Padma Nodir Majhi was shortlisted in the best actor category by the jury for our national awards but he was denied the prize because of his Bangladeshi nationality.

After many so many years and thanks to my efforts, the government of India has realised its folly. This year the prize for the best producer is being shared by Habibur Rahman and Rose Valley’s Gautam Kundu — the Bangladeshi and Indian co-producers of Moner Manush. It’s a great step forward.

Now it’s time for the Bangladesh government to reciprocate. Indians in co-productions should become eligible for Bangladesh national film awards.

Q: Does Lalon Fakir, the protagonist of Moner Manush, personify the composite culture of the two Bengals which you are a great believer in?

A: Yes. Lalon is born Hindu but is raised by Muslims. Subsequently Hindus reject him because he ate the same food as Muslims who brought him up. Disgusted by the pulls and pressures of both religions, Lalon becomes a fakir and evolves as a mystic poet. He was just a human being who created a cult. He symbolises secularism and humanism. All of us should strive to follow in Lalon’s footsteps to purge society of communalism and sectarian hatred.

I wanted to make a film after the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992 which triggered riots in India and Bangladesh. But I didn’t want to make a film about the riots. So I zeroed in on Lalon Fakir because he was a bulwark against communalism and bigotry.

Q: Is the demonisation of Bangladesh in India the handiwork of fundamentalists?

A: Of course! It goes back a long, long way. Bengal was partitioned along religious lines in 1947. But the foundation was laid much earlier in the 19th century — even before the 1905 division of Bengal — during the Hindu renaissance which in my opinion was Hindu revivalism.

Hindu babus created by English education cosied up to the British Empire and distanced themselves from Muslims who got isolated. Hindu babus ended up as landlords and Muslims were reduced to peasants. Of course there were Muslim zamindars too.

Rabindranath Tagore realised this in 1891 when he visited family estates in Silaidaha, Patisahr and Shahabajpur. The elite were divided but there was cultural unity at the subaltern level symbolised by Lalon Fakir. His philosophy influenced Tagore a lot. Lalon stood for a composite Bengali culture. Tagore even wrote — inspired by Lalon — that there is no fight between the Quran and Puran!

Lord Curzon divided Bengal in 1905 for administrative and political reasons. Bihar and Orissa remained a part of West Bengal. Dhaka became the capital of East Bengal which included Bengali-speaking areas of Assam. But there was a revolt against the division by a powerful section which believed in a Greater Bengal which had a composite culture where Hindusim, Islam and remnants of Buddhism co-existed and flourished. The partition was undone in 1911. Alas in 1947 when Bengal was again divided there were no protests. Why? Because Bengalis had become really communal by 1947.

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