Rituparno Ghosh: Cinema, Gender and Art

— Kushal Roy

“Born Krishna, yearning to be Radha..” Rituparno Ghosh, the filmmaker who presented same-sex relationships in his work. The city of Kolkata was his muse as well as his battleground, where he sought to change conventional notions about gender. The master storyteller of subtle relationships wrapped in morning mists, mountains, rains and unsaid emotions, filled the void left by Satyajit Ray & opened doors for the LGBTQ community through his films. The late Rituparno Ghosh, a doyen of modern Bengali cinema, was part of projects like “Arekti Premer Goppo” (Just another love story), “Memories in March” which dealt with LGBTQ romance head on, Titli, Chokher Bali, Raincoat, Antarmahal, Bariwali and many others. His creativity and exceptional contribution to Indian cinema will be remembered forever. I remember the last conversation I had with him.. not long before he passed away.

The only Genderqueer person from our community back home who made me feel like I’m not abnormal, as a queer teen. He sensitively presented complexities of contemporary middle-class society & addressed issues of relationships, gender & sexuality in a distinct way, who pushed boundaries on sexuality, feminism and freedom of thought. Known for his sensitive portrayals of complex themes and explorations of Tagore, Rituparno Ghosh’s life and his LGBTQ advocacy is well-known. What stayed with me was Ghosh’s adamance to steer clear of gender binaries. Calling himself the third gender, he embodies the Pride movement in its truest terms. Rituparno Ghosh was student of Rabindranath Tagore & made 3 films on his novels in which includes Aishwarya Rai acted ‘Chokher Bali.

He will remain in our heart forever. His contributions to India Cinema are immortal. Satyajit Ray died in 1992. That was the same year that Rituparno Ghosh’s first film, a gem of a children’s story, “Hirer Angti” debuted. My fav adaptation of Tagore by Rituparno is Chitrangada. An autobiographical fiction, the film captures the gender identity issue maturely. The country decriminalized gay sex nine months ago, but its film industry has only taken hesitant steps in the direction of equality.

A trio of films–Arekti Premer Galpo (2010), Chitrangada (2012) and Nagarkirtan (2017) by Kaushik Ganguly & Rituparno Ghosh are not shy of showing sex between men, including men who dress like women. A prominent critic calls these scenes sex without pleasure. A very complicated portrayal of a relationship between a gay man and a trans woman. Arekti Premer Golpo (2010) the real-life story of dancer and actor, Chapal Bhaduri, with the fictional documentary-maker, Abhiroop Sen’s quest of self-discovery. The female characters of Tagore have a calm yet strong personality.  Rituparno Ghosh’s Chokher Bali is the film based on Rabindranath Tagore’s novel Chokher Bali. It’s well taken, did justice to the novel. They make a very strong impact on the mind of the reader. We are made to feel the small details of emotions a woman goes through often unnoticed. Aishwarya Rai will always be remembered for her role in ChokherBali. Rabindranath Tagore writing such a strong woman character in Chokher Bali in pre independent India is simply amazing, it read like a well-written & slightly twisted plot summary of Tagore’s Chokher Bali. The author also uses Bangla in the story, which suggests the similarities aren’t accidental. Many years ago Rituparno Ghosh in his film Dahan had mentioned a beautiful line. “Manush jokhon, tokhon tar manobikota thakai uchit” (when you are born as a human being, then humanity is in your blood). I did not know that Rituparno was only 29 when he made Unishe April.

That’s an incredible amount of maturity and sensitivity at that age. Certain films you watch while growing up shape your views. For me, Unishe April was one such film. When people drift apart, the only channel of communication open is the one between hearts.” Not telephone. Not Mobile. The message of Unishe April. Exploitation, Victimhood, and Gendered Performance in Rituparno Ghosh’s Bariwali” would remain one of the finest Indian movies ever made. If you don’t understand Bengali catch it with subtitles. In 2002, Konkona Sen played the role of titli in the film tilted the same alongside Aparna Sen and Mithun. Best film ever for a mother and daughter to bond over. The setting, the unrequited love..the bittersweet ending. There is this dry humour that is fascinating. Raincoat – a 2004 film starring Ajay Devgan and Aishwarya Rai, directed by Rituparno Ghosh. Loved how it was building up on lies and slowly uncovering it later. Every time there is talk of religious practices and where to draw the line, I keep thinking about Rituparno Ghosh’s Antarmahal. It’s impossible to make/release this film today. Watch it if you haven’t. God, desires, sex, religion, adultery, politics, everything is there. Magic it is! The human psyche was Rituparno’s speciality. Ashukh, Khela, Abohoman, Antarmahal, Dosar…No one understands relationships better! Claustrophobic interiors of ancient households or disjointed relations, Rituparno needs an epiphany.

A powerhouse of talent, a master story teller with an eye for detail & his creations – rich in aesthetics. We lost this gem too soon. He defied stereotypes, challenged prejudices, led his short life on his own terms. Dahan, Raincoat, Chokher Bali, Titli, Unishe April will remain my favourites. Rituparno Ghosh’s Asukh, is a good tale of dynamics of a relationship and misunderstandings. The climax between Sharmila and Rakhee in Shubho Mahurat was the best scene ever written. Rituparno Ghosh made ‘The Last Lear’ (2008) about emotional struggle of aging Shakespearean actor for which he directed Amitabh Bachchan! He had complications from hormone treatments after abdominoplasty and breast implants operations which he underwent for his role in film ‘Arekti Premer Golpo’. You will always stay with us, through your words and through the infinite moments that blossomed every time you created a character. Just the day France celebrated 1st gay marriage, and the next day Rituparno Ghosh expired. A huge loss to the LGBT community of India.

Aaj “Utsab” karar din noi kenona “Hirer Angti” chole gechen. Eto taratari “Khela” shesh korben bhabini..