Remembering Rituparno ...
eople like Rituparno Ghosh do not really pass away. So, even after a year since his tragic departure from the material world, Ritu is still with us, around us, in soul, spirit and above everything, is creations – his films, his editing of the Bengali fortnightly Anandalok for several years, his brilliant editorials in Robbar which he edited every week till the end, his haute couture, his anchoring of television talk-shows that often raised intelligent controversy and his charismatic persona constantly in a state of flux. Sumit Dey, currently pursuing his Ph.D. in cinema at the JNU who did his M.Phil on the persona and charismatic image of Rituparno Ghosh, writes:
Rituparno Ghosh commands an ambivalent position in popular media discourses and in the space that occupies the Bengali Bhadralok. On the one hand he is celebrated as an award-winning film maker and a legitimate torch-bearer of the glorious tradition of Bengali ‘art’ cinema exemplified by Satyajit Ray et al, on the other, he is censured for his non-normative modishness with transgressing impulses, non-hegemonic masculinity and somewhat ambivalent sexuality.
Rituparno Ghosh, 49, who passed away of a heart attack in Kolkata on May 30, 2013, was one of the most outstanding young filmmakers in Indian cinema. His films scanned every area of human interactions in all its vibrant and dark colours – from women-centric films like Unishe April, Dahan, Asookh and Bariwalli, to complex relationship films like Utsab, Shob Charito Kalponik and Abohomaan, to self-reflexive films like Khela and The Last Lear, to literary classics like Chokher Bali and Noukadubi to very radical and controversial films on alternative sexuality beginning with Just Another Love Story through Memories in March to his last-released film Chitrangada. He had just completed the shooting of Satyanweshi (Byomkesh Bakshi), a thriller starring Bollywood filmmaker Sujoy Ghosh (Kahani) as the famous literary detective. His much-discussed documentary on Rabindranath Tagore is yet to be premiered.
His distinct line of approach, style and treatment of stories, characters stem from (a) his erudition born of a rich education mainly gleaned from self-education; (b) his command over the script and dialogue of his films; (c) his masterful command over his actors and his technical crew that drew the best out of them and brought the national awards and attention they did not receive from their mainstream work. Prosenjit, the numero uno of popcorn Bengali cinema, is a classic example of this celluloid transformation.
Ghosh largely worked in Bengali, with stories and themes rooted in Bengali culture. With time, his films broke geographical and linguistic barriers when he made Raincoat (Hindi) with Ajay Devgun and Aishwarya Rai and The Last Lear (English). Having studied Economics at Jadavpur University, Ghosh chose a career in advertising films though he had no formal training in any department of film making. Perhaps, his desire lay in his genes, his father having been a noted maker of documentary films.
After having made around 400 ad shorts, many of which won prestigious awards, Ghosh shifted to feature films. His first film Hirer Angti (1992), was produced by the Children’s Film Society of India. Though it won an international award, it lacks the magic touch of Rituparno Ghosh. Almost all his films have bagged national awards, a TV serial and ad films have won awards too, but Ghosh was far from satisfied. Ghosh said that in Dahan, only five out of the 120 minutes bore the masterly touch of film making. As for Unishe April, that brought him the national best director award in 1996, “barring some scenes, the film could have been improved upon”. While these two films “are quite important and relevant", it is Asookh, that was his "best and most mature film till now”, said Ghosh in an earlier interview.
After having directed a considerable number of feature films Ghosh decided to become an actor. He was an androgynous person. He not only did not shy away from this identity, but he also turned it into his style signature.
According to Sumit Dey,
Ghosh inherited the notion of androgyny from Bengali literature and cultural traditions. His practiced androgyny, he believed, came from this influence. In three films, Just Another Love Story directed by Koushik Ganguly, Memories in March directed by Sanjoy Nag and Chitrangada which he directed himself, Ghosh played one of the main leads, an androgynous character struggling with his sexual orientation, its recognition and acceptance. In personal and public space, Rituparno Ghosh, the celebrity director, writer, lyricist and editor, evolved from a tee-shirt-and-jeans wearing man with a curly head of hair, black-framed glasses and somewhat effeminate body language during Unishe April, Dahan, Asookh to a distinctly fashionable person with his individual sartorial statements that became famous because the person making them was already famous.
No Indian feature film has ever touched upon a subject like sex reassignment surgery undergone by a man to become a woman. Chitrangada – The Crowning Wish tackles this issue head-on through the eyes of its protagonist portrayed by Ghosh. Alas! It is unthinkable at this moment that we will encounter such cinematic risks taken by Ghosh ever again.
Pictures Courtesy: Dr. Shoma A Chatterji