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Film looks at India's shrinking Anglo-Indian community

By Frederick Noronha, IANS


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India's shrinking Anglo-Indian community and its members' changing lifestyles in Kolkata are the subject of a film shot over the past year that has just made it for its premier at the International Film Festival of India (IFFI).

"Bow Barracks Forever", a 118-minute English-language film is the "story of survival of people in Kolkata and particularly of the Anglo-Indian community", says director Anjan Dutt.

Dutt -- who combines roles of actor, singer, musician, songwriter and filmmaker -- has set his film in a century-old building that once served as the barracks for the US army.

When it left after World War II, the building was handed over to people connected with the Army, primarily Anglo-Indians as the mixed offspring of British and Indian stock are referred to in this part of the world.

"This was a community that gave Kolkata its police officers, its musicians and its hockey players. Over time, the place has disintegrated and it's now seen as a dangerous area. It's half Chinese, very much Goan and a very strange place," says Dutt.

Dutt says he was motivated by architect Manish Chakrabarty, who was trying to convert Kolkata's old buildings into heritage structures, so that they could not be demolished for new skyscrapers that spell big money in a bustling city.

"Calcutta Improvement Trust (CIT) has done nothing, and the (state) government has been ambivalent. It's a huge red building that reminds you of Bow Street. It's a huge place, where a large shopping complex could come up. Everyone seems waiting for it to collapse," said Dutt.

"All characters are based on real people. They live very violently. Beat each other up violently. Make love violently. The (140 families) staying in the area believe that something good will come of the film," said the director who has directed numerous telefilms for the ETV Bangali channel.

"Kolkata has never been just a Hindu Bengali city. It is multicultural, with an Armenian community, the Parsees, Chinese, Anglo Indians, and the Muslims," Dutt says.

Dutt said that funds apparently sought to be sent to restore Bow Barracks, from an MP nominated to represent the Anglo-Indian community, had got caught in the channels and were not used.

During the shooting, which began on Christmas eve 2003, the director said he faced a problem with the local residents expecting to be paid more for their participation.

"I think they had a point. They were misinformed about our film, but to them making a cinema means making a lot of money," said the director, whose film features in the Indian Panorama section of this year's IFFI, currently on here.

Initially the film was to be called 'Aunty Lobo's Wine', about the middle-aged Anglo Indian Emily Lobo, who lives by baking cakes and brewing red wine.

Dutt, when asked, stressed that attempts had been made to avoid stereotyping of cultural minorities, as often done by Bollywood.

"Bollywood has done damage. Always, the Nepali comes across as a joker, the Anglo-Indian is very brutal. It's only Raj Kapoor whose 'aunties' (elderly Christian ladies) are very sweet and nice. Otherwise it's only north Indians, specially Punjabis, who seem to be shown in good light," he said.

Neel Dutt, who happens to be the director's son and is music director for this movie, said doing the film was a "very enjoyable process". This film's cast includes noted actor Victor Banerjee, Lilette Dubey, Clayton Rodgers and Neha Dubey.

"'Bow Barracks Forever' is a story of survival against all odds, a story that mirrors the spirit of the old and undying city, Kolkata," says the director.


 
 

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