All about Suhel Banerjee and his Che Guevara Instagram account
Filmmaker Suhel Banerjee sees Che Guevara once a day: on T-shirts, graffiti, tattoos and mobile phone covers. Here's why he started an Instagram account about it
Film-Maker Suhel Banerjee is talking about Che Guevara in a rented beret. "He took Rs 50 to put the star," he says, of the temporary acquisition. We're on the terrace of a Bandra building, which overlooks the Sealink and the skyscrapers of South Mumbai. "It's the perfect setting: the towers are covered in a rising haze of pollution. Capitalism is being threatened by itself."
Banerjee, 32, is a mechanical engineer by degree and a film-maker by calling. A Lucknow boy who studied in Kolkata, films happened to him "because I was bunking classes. I used to go to the Kolkata Film Festival, where I saw films of Pedro Almodóvar. I saw what cinema could be." That's also where he saw The Motorcycle Diaries for the first time. "I knew Che roughly because Bengal being Bengal at that time [Left-leaning]. But, then I saw The Motorcycle Diaries and then I bought the book from College Street. I realised he's an extraordinary man, and I started buying more books on him."
Even though Banerjee says today, "I was young then, and you find your heroes," he continues to harbour feelings for Guevara. "The general impression is that he is a carefree man, who goes on a motorcycle trip, and at the end of it, comes out as Che Guevara. I don't think that's possible. You need to have some sensitivity, you need to have your eyes open. Nobody can pretend there is no poverty, there are no hungry people or people sleeping on the pavement. If you question these things, they call you a communist. But, you're sensitive, and you're looking at another human being lying on the street, and you feel this is not right."
There was a point when Banerjee considered writing a biography on him. Then he lowered his ambitions and thought about a blog, but blogs went out of fashion. And then arrived Instagram. "Over the years, I would see Che somewhere or the other. To a point where I still feel I see him once every day. [Instagram] was the best way to do it because it's an image." On @Cheoftheday, he profiles people carrying and wearing Che paraphernalia, and writes cheeky captions in Guevara's voice.
"Initially, I would shoot and run. Then I thought it's better to talk to the person and show him my account. So, I would start imagining that Che is also here. If you look at my captions, Che is talking, Che passes a comment. [The account] is nothing. I mean, it's just the profile of the people who are wearing Che T-shirts." And just because people wear them doesn't mean they understand him. "I don't think this proliferation of Che's images has done anything to the politics of it. Che's dead body was looked at, by the people in Bolivia, as if Jesus has been martyred. There is something [in the image] of a martyr, a messiah, a saint, which is continued throughout the ages. Not just with Che, but for some reason, he fit into it. He is also a very good-looking man. So, it's a good photograph. When a young man dies for a cause; he never ages. It becomes more than a human being."
If not directly, Guevara has influenced Banerjee's politics to an extent. Alongside his two films (Bookseller from the Mountains, in which Tom Alter played Ruskin Bond and Ruskin Bond played Ruskin Bond; and Tides of Life, a docu on the Sundarbans), Banerjee has become involved with Citizens for Justice and Peace by activist Teesta Setalvad.
"I would say that my politics is not as brave as that of Che's, [or I have] that clarity to see how a new society can be created, or a new man can be created. But, the last words of Che's book are, 'This great divide falls upon us and cleaves us into two halves, then I know which side I am on.' So I am on Che's side."
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