Rituparno Ghosh - A Humble Tribute
he saddest thing that can happen to you is to live on and hear about someone much younger than you passing away yonder without so much as a by-your-leave. When you hear the news, you first go into complete denial and refuse to believe it. Then, you are shell-shocked. This is what happened to me when the red ribbon on a television news channel declared that Rituparno Ghosh had passed away on May 30 at his residence, Tasher Ghor. He was suffering from pancreatic disease but died in his sleep of a heart attack. Now, the residue pain that catches your insides wants to keep screaming – he had so much to give to the film industry still –why did he have to go away so early?
Though Hirer Angti (1992), a film for children was his first film, it was with his second film Unishe April (1995) that Ghosh liberated the censored and distorted image of the screen mother from the taboos and constraints of patriarchal culture to place it as a subject of psychological study and sociological inspiration for a feminist reading. The film bagged the top has used the narrative itself (conceived, scripted and written by Ghosh) as the vehicle for diagnosing a mother-daughter schism in ideological terms.
Ghosh transcended the barriers of regional cinema first, by bringing in actors and actresses from national cinema to star in Bengali films, such as Mithun Chakraborty in Titli, Sharmila Tagore and Raakhee in Shubho Muhurt, Kiron Kher in Bariwali and Aishwarya Rai in Chokher Bali, and secondly, by stepping directly into Hindi territory with Raincoat, starring Ajay Devgan and Aishwarya Rai. He brought in Soha Ali Khan, Jackie Shroff, Abhishek Bachchan and Moneesha Koirala in his later films like Antarmahal and Khela. He had the gifted ability to draw out the best performances from stars of commercial cinema noted for their mainstream mannerisms. One classic example of this is Prosenjeet, the top star of Bengali cinema. Prosenjit’s outstanding performances in Unishe April, Utsab, Dosar, Khela, Shob Charitra Kalponik and Noukadubi show how Ghosh could strip the star completely of his commercial image to step into the character and become one with the characters he portrayed.
Interestingly Ghosh’s first film, Hirer Angti, produced by the Children and Young People’s Film Society, got awards at international film festivals. The film carries not the slightest hint of the brilliant cinema that was to follow from the directorial wand of Ghosh. Khela, which probes into the relationship of a flop director and a boy he has kidnapped, purportedly for a ransom. Ghosh faced the wrath of the media and the audience alike with his interpretations of Chokher Bali based on a novel by Rabindranath Tagore and Tarasankar Bandopadhyay’s short story, Protima, made into Antarmahal in the celluloid version. His recent films are noted more for their attention to the physical detailing of sets, production design, architecture, costume, make-up and cinematography than on historical details such as time, space and logic.
Rituparno's celluloid family could be defined as a radical family in emotional and psychological terms, even where the family apparently seems to be quite conventional in its structure and its composition. The inner spaces of the house/apartment/mansion that the member/s of the family inhabit in each film, evolves into a character unto itself, and does not remain confined merely to being defined as the physical framework and environment within which the human characters negotiate their terms of changing interaction.
Many mainstream actresses found new milestones in their career through their work in Rituparno Ghosh’s films. Debasree Roy (Unishe April), Rituparna Sengupta and Indrani Haldar (Dahan), Kiron Kher and Sudipta Chakraborty (Bariwalli), Ananya Chatterjee (Abohomaan) have all bagged national awards for their performance under the magic directorial wand of Rituparno Ghosh. Prosenjit won a Special Jury award for his brilliant performance of a near-crippled man in Dosar while Arjun Rampal bagged the Best Supporting Actor for The Last Lear.
In Khela, he tackled a child as protagonist pitted against a cerebral, uncompromising filmmaker who kidnaps the child to make his film. He also penned beautiful lyrics for the songs of the film. He steered away from the woman question with films that gave equal democratic screen space to both men and women. In his self-reflexive films like Khela, Bariwalli, Abohomaan and The Last Lear, he made no bones about pointing a finger at himself as a filmmaker as an artist who mercilessly and deliberately exploits the feelings of his performers to create a beautiful film.
As actor, his performances beginning with Arr Ekti Premer Golpo through Memories in March and Chitrangada, his last released film, he came out of his closet to create a genre of films centered on alternative sexual preferences coming out despite the strong opposition to such relationships by mainstream society. As Ornob, the gay boss in Memories in March, Ghosh expressed himself through his body language, his somewhat shy demeanour when he talks to her about his relationship with her son, unable to meet her in the eye, angered when she talks about her son’s ‘abnormality’ expressing it by looking away, struggling like a child to grab her photograph as a young woman Siddharth pinned up on his board in his office cubicle.
But his involvement as an actor, every time as a person with alternative sexual preferences, somehow chipped away from his brilliance as a director filled with new ideas, concepts and ideologies to present in every new film. His latest film Bomkesh Bokshi, brings him back into his original fold with a thriller, the shooting of which was completed just a few days before he bid a silent goodbye.