In the trailer of Nehal Dutta’s Bengali-language Baghini: Bengal Tigress, Indira Bandhopadhyay (Ruma Chakraborty) plays a political leader who is fondly called “didi” (elder sister) by her supporters. Dressed in a white saree with her hair tied in a bun, Indira is shown as a passionate upholder of the rights of the impoverished. The resemblance to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is striking.
The filmmakers claim, however, that Baghini: Bengal Tigress is not a biopic of Banerjee, but has been inspired by her “life struggle”, writer and producer Pinki Pal Mandal told Scroll.in.
Baghini: Bengal Tigress will be out on May 3. The release follows a series of biopics of political leaders whose parties are aiming for a re-election in the Lok Sabha polls this year, including The Accidental Prime Minister, Thackeray, Yatra, the two-part NTR films, and a Narendra Modi tribute. The Election Commission halted the release of Omung Kumar’s PM Narendra Modi until after the elections, calling it a “serious threat to the level-playing field”.
West Bengal’s final voting dates for the General Election are May 7 and May 12.
The film’s trailer includes references to a state-versus-farmer struggle and police violence, both reminiscent of events in Nandigram in 2007 and Singur in 2008. In Nandigram, 14 people died in police firing during protests against a special economic zone. In the case of Singur, an agitation led by Banerjee’s All India Trinamool Congress party resulted in Tata Motors pulling out of a proposed project to manufacture Nano cars in the state. Both events were seen as contributing to the defeat of the Left Front to Banerjee’s party in the 2011 Assembly election.
The trailer also hints at the “poriborton” (change) brought by its heroine – a word also used by Banerjee in the run-up to the Assembly election.
When asked about possible parallels with the Nandigram violence and the Singur controversy, Mandal said, “If you see the trailer, the ruling party is shown to be the villain, but we didn’t mention what party that is.”
One of the politicians in the trailer appears to resemble former Left Front chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee (played by Phalguni Chatterjee). “If someone’s committed to the vision of standing by the people, there must be those who oppose her,” Mandal said. “Why do we need to take names? The name is not important but the message is – that an ordinary woman with vision and grit can overcome obstacles and make something of her life. Our film is about women empowerment and there is no better example of women empowerment than our chief minister. But it’s not necessary that women empowerment has to happen in the political field.”
Baghini: Bengal Tigress was announced in early 2016, and was reportedly meant to be released in April that year, However, scenes involving visual effects and computer graphics reportedly resulted in a delay in the production schedule. Principal photography began in January 2016, and a few reshoots were carried out in 2017.
Indira Bandhopadhyay’s character is played by different actresses at different points in her life: Ananya Guha plays the youngest version; Alokananda Guha plays Indira during her college years. In another teaser, Guha’s Indira tells a young man that she cannot marry since her ambition is to work for the people.
Lead actress Ruma Chakraborty has played Mamata Banerjee in a number of Bengali jatra, or folk theatre, productions. Chakraborty told Scroll.in that she got a call to audition for a “strong character” towards the end of 2010. “The audition required me to be angry and slap a man really hard,” Chakraborty recalled. “After I did, there was hushed silence in the room.”
Chakraborty was later informed that she had been cast as Mamata Banerjee in Bidyut Sarkar’s film, Didi. “Though I began prep for it, the film didn’t work out,” Chakraborty said.
Instead, Chakraborty ended up playing Banerjee in jatra productions, including Banglar Khomotay Ebar Mamata (Bengal is Now in Mamata’s Control) and Didi Tomar Jobab Nei (Didi, You’re Amazing).
Director Nehal Dutta said that Ruma Chakraborty’s experience of playing Mamata Banerjee had nothing to do with her being cast in Baghini: Bengal Tigress. “We chose Ruma Chakraborty because she is a good, established actress, with middle-class looks,” Dutta said.