It was just three weeks ago that Jayaraj met Bengali director Rituparno Ghosh, who died in Kolkata on Thursday.

“He was in New Delhi to receive the jury’s special mention for his Chitrangada and I was part of the jury,” Jayaraj told The Hindu . “He was a bit disappointed that he did not win the national award for the best film, so I went up to him and consoled him.” Jayaraj said Chitrangada had lost out the award narrowly to Paan Singh Tomar . “In Chitrangada , Rituparno was brilliant as an actor too, in the role of a transgendered dancer,” he said. “My friendship with Ritu began long ago. We would often meet at the national awards [ceremony] in Delhi and at film festivals.”

He said he always admired Rituparno’s films. “No director could portray a character’s inner conflicts as well as he could,” he elaborated. “As a director, he came closest to Satyajit Ray.”

Abohoman , Unishe April , Chokher Bali , and Last Lear are among Jayaraj’s favourite films of the Bengali director. “When he told me that he loved my films like Desadanam , Shantham , and Karunam , I felt very happy,” he said. “And he used to tell other directors to watch my films. For me that was like winning an award.”

Scriptwriter Deedi Damodaran too is a fan of Rituparno. “I have always enjoyed watching his films and have been keeping in constant touch with him through text messages,” she said. “Women in his films were stunningly beautiful. Among my favourites are Chitrangada , Abohoman , and Last Lear .”

She said she had almost succeeded in bringing Rituparno to Kozhikode for the international film festival organised by the Corporation recently. “He had agreed to come to the festival with Chitrangada , but he fell ill,” she said. “He, however, gave us the permission to screen the DVD of the film.”

Deedi added she had always been an admirer of Rituparno as a person too. “It takes a lot of courage to come out and tell the world that you are a transgender, especially when you are a celebrity,” she said.

“Ever since I first met him at the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Delhi in 1996, I have watched with fascination the transformation in his persona. Even then he had seemed a bit feminine. Years later at the IFFI in Goa, I saw him dressed and made-up almost completely like a woman. And he looked like a beautiful woman too, just as he did in the film Arketi Premer Golpo , with his lovely kohl-rimmed eyes.”

She said Rituparno was upset that he had been often hounded by the media and some of his colleagues for not conforming to the gender stereotypes. “He was hurt by that,” she said. “He wanted to be judged by his films, not by his personality.”