Kolkata: West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has spurned sponsorship offers from private companies for the 17th Kolkata Film Festival, which got underway on Thursday, signalling to businessmen that she doesn’t want them to get too close to her government.
Though traditionally backed mostly by privately owned local businesses, the eight-day event this year with a budget of Rs 2.75 crore is being sponsored almost entirely by public sector companies including Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL), Gail (India) Ltd, Indian Oil Corp. Ltd, Coal India Ltd and the country’s biggest lender, State Bank of India.
Seeking investments: West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee. By PTI
Banerjee is persuading these companies to invest in the state. She has requested SAIL, which forked out Rs 50 lakh in sponsorship to the festival, to set a wagon manufacturing facility at Singur up in partnership with Indian Railways.
A spokesperson for the steelmaker said SAIL has substantial exposure in eastern India and so agreed to financially support the film festival. “Also, the festival is eight days long, making it an interesting property for corporate image-building,” he added.
Star Jalsha, a Bengali general entertainment television channel, is the only private sponsor for the festival. Some privately-owned hotels in Kolkata are supporting the film festival by offering free hospitality to guests from outside the city.
“It was a policy decision not to accept money from private companies,” said Yadab Mondal, festival director and chief executive of Nandan, a state-owned centre for film awareness and promotion. “We requested public sector companies for sponsorship and I am delighted that so many came forward to help us.”
Speaking at the inauguration on Thursday, though, Banerjee requested people to invest in the state, and mentioned the proposed film city in the suburbs of Kolkata, for which her government has invited bids from private developers.
Banerjee even requested Hindi film actor Shah Rukh Khan to become the state’s brand ambassador. Khan, who joined actor Sharmila Tagore and the chief minister at the inauguration, said he viewed Kolkata as “the cultural, literary and artistic hub” of India.
Mondal said that though almost all key local businessmen were invited to the inauguration, it was decided that their involvement will be restricted to hosting dinners for the delegates “should they wish to”, but the state government will have nothing to do with them.
“It was an honour to be associated with the film festival (in the past),” said Sanjay Budhia, managing director of Patton Group, which in the past was among the prominent sponsors of the film festival. The group had no role to play this year.
Having resisted several private industrial projects in West Bengal as the opposition leader earlier, Banerjee has turned to public sector companies to drive industrialization in the state. Some state-owned companies have responded to her call, but none seems to be immediately pushing for execution of projects.
On 29 October, she announced 10 new projects, saying an “industrial revolution” was coming to West Bengal. Seven of these will be led by public sector companies and the railways, a ministry controlled by Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress party.
At the other end of the spectrum, Gujarat—now the most sought-after destination for industrial projects—received investment commitments to the tune of nearly Rs 21 trillion at the Vibrant Gujarat summit in January, most of it from private firms.