Documentary film-maker Soumitra Dastidar’s most recent contribution to this genre, Musalmaner Katha is the story, as the name implies, of the Muslim community. It is specifically about a people living and working within the boundaries of West Bengal, which they have been doing ever since the advent of Muslim dynasty in Gouŗ Banga, as this part of Bengal was called in ancient times. Soumitra describes it as a document of the passage of time, even an epical chronicle. His painstaking homework takes him back to the Battle of Palashi which was the beginning of the descent of darkness on the lives of Bengali Muslims. As the British entrenched themselves in the soil of Bengal, not to speak of the rest of India, the Bengali Hindus, blessed with the enlightenment that came with English education, gradually found their places within the circle of power. But the Muslims in general, the majority of whom were peasants, having little or no access to this benefit began to lag behind and their situation has hardly improved over the years.
Soumitra has spoken to quite a few prominent members of the contemporary Muslim community in (West) Bengal to seek their opinions about the status of their brothers and sisters and the practical problems that still continue to obstruct their progress and development. Their replies are almost identical in a number of ways – domination by the (so called) upper caste Hindu population who far outnumber the Muslims, ingrained poverty, general lack of exposure to modern educational facilities and, perhaps most significant of all, being victims of institutional communalism and prejudice. Since Independence, successive administrations have made no real effort to address these problems. Soumitra, however, concludes his film with more than one ray of hope – the images he holds up before the viewers show that at last the younger generation of the Muslim community in Bengal is trying to break out of the taboos that have conspired for ages to keep them out of the mainstream of life. The film-maker certainly deserves to be commended for the objectivity of his approach to this sensitive subject.