Rituparno Ghosh: A Few Random Thoughts

When I was studying business administration in Jamshedpur, I got up very early on a Sunday morning to attend a film festival, braving a terrible hangover, torrential rains and knee-deep water-logging. The film I wanted to see was (what I then thought) the director's second film, based on a novel by a favourite author of mine.
Having loved - and even more, been intrigued - by the director's earlier film, I was eagerly awaiting this one though I remember thinking (in the auto to the auditorium) that the film was bound to be a disappointment - something I grew accustomed to. Having seen Bengali (and Hindi also, come to think of it) cinema in an inexorable decline, I just knew it. Why was I being a masochist when I could have slept off my hangover, I thought.
As you would have guessed from the context, the author was Suchitra Bhattacharya. The film was Dahan - which still remains my favourite film by Rituparno Ghosh. It would be unfair if I called Dahan merely Rituparno's best film. Along with Mahanagar, it is one of the two most brilliant documents on women's rights in India.

Having not watched Bengali cinema - or more importantly, not thought about it too much either - in recent times, I often mentioned Srijit Mukherji, Sujoy Ghosh or Dibakar Banerjee as the best Bengali directors in the country today. In the last couple of days, I thought about Rituparno Ghosh's twenty films (soon to be twenty-one) and realised I was thinking of the others as directors who were Bengalis. As a director of Bengali films, Rituparno Ghosh stood unparalleled. Even when he made so-called Hindi films like Raincoat and The Last Lear, the Bangaliyana just engulfed you like a warm embrace.

Over the last two days, I have been reading up all the tributes to him and wondering what has got left out. There has been a succinctly comprehensive appraisal by Sohini Mitter on the Forbes India blogs - highlighting his portrayal of women characters and understanding of Tagore.
There has been an affectionate thought from Tanmay Mukherjee on how would They meet?
An extensive interview by Kaustav Bakshi looks at his relationships with Ray and Tagore, his handling of actors (including child actors, which was remarkably similar to Ray himself) and his sexuality.
Sandip Roy looked at the missionary zeal with which he brought forward his support of the sexual minority and cleverly connected it with a feature of the Bengali language.
By and large, they have been around his forte of depicting women, Tagore and - in the last phase of his career - alternate sexuality.
UPDATED TO ADD: After I published this post, I found Arnab written - as usual - a balanced and nuanced take on Rituparno's legacy - which, I think, is the best of all the tributes written for the director.
Apart from that, Trisha Gupta wrote a nice piece on Rituparno's many hats - as actor, director and agent provocateur.

I feel one of Rituparno's abiding contribution to parallel cinema - which has not been acknowledged in the obituaries - has been his effort to bring it to the mainstream by improving its commercial viability. He chose to do this by having superstars in his films, without compromising the content or the form.
I think it is a matter of huge confidence when a parallel filmmaker takes on a star - his mannerisms, his airs, his ego - and squeezes out a great performance from him. Rituparno did this with aplomb and in his films, a roll-call of stars like Amitabh Bachchan, Abhishek Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai, Ajay Devgn, Preity Zinta, Arjun Rampal, Jackie Shroff, Bipasha Basu and Rituparna Sengupta wowed the festival circuit, while bringing their box-office clout to his offbeat themes.
In this respect, one must remember that the actor of Shanghai, Baishey Srabon, Autograph, Moner Manush, Aparajita Tumi and (the forthcoming) Kakababu was delivered to us by Rituparno. Prasenjit gave up his box-office occasionally and turned to meaningful cinema (and even brought his clout to support it). Theirs was the most enduring - and most endearing - commercial-artistic partnership. As my mother once said, "Rituparno turned Possenjit into Prasenjit".

I will end with a favourite sequence of mine - the last few scenes of Shubho Maharat. Rituparno took diverse strands of realistic dialogue, strong women characters and Rabindranath Tagore to create a mesmeric ending to an already brilliant film.
Of course, you have watched it many times. Do watch it again. If not for anything else, the lines sound even more prophetic right now.
Jiban maraner shimana chharaye
Bandhu hey amar royechho dnaraye... 


Don Juan said…
Very nice post. I was searching for just this bit of the film, in my opinion, one of the most poignant uses of a Rabindra Sangeet in cinema. Thanks for putting this up. And yes the words sound prophetic. I totally concur with your mother's assessment of Rituparno's contribution to Prasenjit's transformation. And Dahan remains one of my all time favorites! However, I rarely see mention of Antarmahal anywhere, which I thought was too advanced and subtle a take on the Zamindars, for our audiences to stomach.
Rajarshi said…
Dahan is actually Rituparno's Third film. Rituparno's first film is "Hirer Angti", which is based on a novel by Shirshendu. It is a much under-appreciated gem.
In fact, I don't like Rituparno's movies that much. But it can't be denied that Rituparno started a new wave of Bengali movies. Among his movies, I liked Hier Angti, Dahan, Shubho maharat and Antarmahal. (I have wateched all his movies except abohoman)
While I'm saddened by Rituporno's untimely demise, I was shocked by your proclamation that Dahan was based on the story by a favourite authors of yours!
These days it has become the fashion to wear low waist jeans, carry an iPhone, and ridicule Chetan Bhagat and Amish Tripathi. In such a situation, a bengali blogger proclaims Suchitra Bhattacharya as one his favourite authors? Heck, anybody in the world proclaiming Suchitra Bhattacharya as a favourite author? Suchitra Bhattacharya, of all people?
BongMom said…
Suchitra bhattacharya is a very good author. What is the problem ? Q for prev commentor.
I personally have lots of problems with Suchitra Bhattacharya's writings where Wife (protagonist)=God, Wife's father=Almost-God, Wife's brother=Weak-Soul, Wife's husband=Dirtier-than-Cowdung. She has been carrying this equation for decades now. Heck, why does every female Bengali author refuse to write on anything other than women? The only exceptions would be Nabanita Deb Sen, Leela Majumdar, Mahashweta Devi (to a very small extent) and Bani Basu (to an even smaller extent). Rest of them, including Ashapurna Devi, would continue to write only about women. Think how boring it would be, if all men continued to write only about men. Of course, you're free to rubbish my observations and continue to admire the author in question... just as I continue to admire Amish Tripathi.
Anonymous said…
Susmita Dasgupta on Rituparno Ghosh.

Anonymous said…
And here's Susmita again on Rituparno and Rajesh Khanna! Going by her comments, seems like Ritu was born in 1959 and not 1963 as has been reported.


Anonymous said…
Rituparno and Rajesh Khanna. By the way according to this(refer the JU part) Rituparno was born in 1959 not 1963.