While writing my earlier post on Rituparno Ghosh, I was amazed to realise that nearly half of his twenty directorial ventures are right up there among my favourite films. That puts him second only to Ray in my list. Not even Ritwik Ghatak had made so many A++ films.
My reminisces continued for the better part of yesterday and today and I hadn’t bargained for how sad I would feel on hearing about his death. Apart from the subtle hold he had over me with his films, the unexpectedness of his death had a lot to do with it.
At forty-nine, a director is usually reaching his peak. As my friend Suhel Banerjee pointed out, (given his age) Rituparno’s death is a bigger loss to Bengali cinema than Ray’s. With this in mind, I decided to cling more to the memories and yield ten of my favourite Rituparno films.
There are no ‘Tagore films’ in this list. But then, each one of his films is steeped in Tagore – much like how a Bengali life usually is. We often forget how much The Bearded One is part of our lives. Rituparno Ghosh’s films are perfect antidotes for that oversight.
My mother and I watched it together and I remember both of us staring at each other for a few seconds when the last frame dissolved and then breaking into smiles. Without speaking, we knew this was the best ending the film could have got and the writer-director wasn’t an ordinary one. Of course, the film was almost perfect in every other way.
As many commentators noted in their tributes, Rituparno got the bhadralok Bengali audiences back to the theatre and Unishey April was a magical start.
As I just wrote, this is my favourite Rituparno Ghosh film. It took a very sensitive topic and gave the most well-balanced take possible. It was set in 1998 Calcutta. It could well be 2013 Delhi. Or 2020 Mumbai. More than the maturity (and sensitivity) with which he handled the topic, it was the writing which took my breath away. Having cut my cinema-appreciation teeth on Satyajit Ray, I remember feeling almost blasphemous when I thought that the writing – dialogues, screenplay – was almost like Ray’s.
Rituparno, I felt, loved uncomfortable situations – at least in his films. In Ashukh, he created a situation where a daughter had to speculate on her father’s possible sexual relations. A series of uncomfortable situations and tense relationships were explored masterfully in Utsab. The old decaying mansion of the film was – to me – a metaphor for the city of Calcutta and the talented but squabbling relatives its citizens. When I saw the film, I had already become a probashi and the helplessness at the imminent downfall of the family – examined during Durga Pujo – was a gut-wrenching experience.
Boy loves girl. Boy loses girl. Boy meets girl – again. Boy also meets girl’s daughter.
For me, Titli was Lamhe meets Kapurush. When you go to see a film that seems to be a hybrid of two earlier movies you love, you almost pre-decide to hate the movie. I did exactly the same but came back converted. The music – especially the title song – warmed my heart. The writing wowed me. And the performances of the three lead actors just blew me away.
(I think I had just seen Konkona’s debut – Ek Je Achhey Kanya – with considerable dismay. I became her fan with Titli. And Mithun. How can you not like Mithun when he plays a movie star?)
Unlike some of his earlier films, I decided to like Shubho Maharat much before I saw it. Raakhee as a Bangali Miss Marple (with a name as endearing as Ranga pishima) was brilliant. And the best part of the movie was the smoothness with which she solved the crime, without ever going anywhere near the scene of crime and yet making it perfectly plausible.
After this one, I had hoped for a series of Miss Marple films (or at least a television series) but that never happened.
When Chetan Bhagat and Vinod Chopra were fighting over credits for 3 Idiots, I remembered an interview of Rituparno, where he stated that the credit to O’Henry’s Gift of the Magi was given at the end of the film only to retain the suspense but it was against his principle to not credit the original writer upfront. O’Henry received a Bangali makeover as we got to know that Aishwarya Rai could actually act and Ajay Devgn’s Zakhm wasn’t a flash in the pan.
He went back to an uncomfortable situation – with a vengeance. A wife learns of his husband’s infidelity after an accident which kills the husband’s lover and renders the husband critically injured. The wife’s family, the husband’s colleagues, the lover’s husband and an assortment of bloody real characters played out the aftermath of the accident. Konkona delivered an understated but powerhouse performance. Before the movie, I expected her to chew Prasenjit up and ‘expose’ him. I think it is Rituparno’s directorial baton that got Prasenjit to match her scene by scene.
The Last Lear
A long time back, I had imagined Amitabh Bachchan as an actor in the twilight of his career. The arrogance of having been the emperor once upon a time. The desperation of seeing it all slip away. The frustration of seeing midgets occupying centre-stage. The guilt of ignoring his family. The pain of them now ignoring him. The contempt for his contemporaries compromising to do character roles. The obsession of trying to get a final hurrah before the curtain falls. And the quest for a group of people who would be ready to gamble on this old war-horse…
Rituparno delivered this exact story of my dreams to me – with only a few small modifications. What’s there not to love in it?
A lot of people saw Satyajit Ray’s life story in this film. I didn’t. I just felt Dipankar Dey gave the performance of a lifetime in this film as an eccentric film director who gave up his family for fame and regretted it at the twilight of his life. Or did he regret it? They forgave him for that. Or did they? I remember being a little unimpressed with the film while watching it but ended thinking about the questions it asked for several days afterwards till I had to pull out the DVD and watch it once again. Rituparno did that sort of thing to you.
And yes, there are only nine films in the list. I am leaving one space for Satyanweshi, which will – I am hoping – overtake Ray’s Byomkesh film.