cinema A filmmaker who broke many a stereotype, Rituparno Ghosh will be remembered for giving the alternative a chance
“Iam overrated because there is a lack of talent around.” When Rituparno Ghosh passed away last week, we lost a little bit of honesty in the creative spectrum. “I don’t like to intellectualise cinema too much,” he told this journalist when as a greenhorn one was trying to place him in the pantheon dominated by Ray and Ghatak. Over the years one realised that he was more like Tapan Sinha and Tarun Majumdar, but since there is no Ray or Ghatak now his image becomes magnified.
But then, nobody can deny that Rituparno kept the flag of regional cinema flying when Bollywood was trampling everybody to submission. “In the two decades that Bollywood ruled India and the Diaspora, Rituparno Ghosh through his Bengali films gave regional cinema a status and visibility that made it a force to reckon with,” says Shohini Ghosh, seasoned scholar, who has followed Rituparno’s career closely.
Rituparno saw cinema getting demystified on the dining table, as his father was a noted documentary filmmaker. “I discovered the difference between a rush print and a final print very early. However, I could not relate to documentary films as I wanted to be a storyteller... interpreting the truth, which documentary filmmakers call distorting the truth,” he told this journalist in an interview.
Ghosh says Rituparno never had formal schooling in filmmaking and nor did he ever work as an assistant to any director. “The world of advertising was his training ground. He self-confessedly learnt about filmmaking by watching Satyajit Ray’s films. I personally feel that his early work carried the legacy of Aparna Sen’s 36 Chowringhee Lane and Parama . He also loved the films of Tapan Sinha and Tarun Majumdar, not to mention the romantic films of Uttam-Suchitra. Noukadubi ( The Boatwreck ) was a tribute to these filmmakers. On the other hand, he pushed the boundaries of what is ‘cinematic’ in cinema. This investment in form was an important development in his later films and was explored most eloquently in Shob Choritro Kalponik ( All Characters are Imaginary ) and Chitrangada . I regret that his untimely passing has cut short this phase of his cinematic experimentation.”
Seasoned filmmaker Buddhadeb Dasgupta, who knew Rituparno from the time he took the script of his first film Hiren Angti to him, says his cinema was all about honest storytelling with good craftsmanship. He gave them the ray of hope. “He brought the middle-class intelligentsia back to theatres when the common Bengali was lining up for entertainers churned out by Swapan Saha and Anjan Choudhury,” says Dasgupta.
Ghosh says it is important to note that Rituparno’s films revived the Bengali film industry economically. “Apart from being a filmmaker, he was a cinephile who loved popular Hindi and Bengali films as much as European art house cinema. So for him or his audiences, ‘popular appeal’ was not a synonym for ‘compromise’.”
However, Dasgupta feels Rituparno didn’t experiment with the form as much as he could have. “Like many others, he became a victim of popular appeal. In the later years, particularly with Chitrangada , he rediscovered his voice. And I told him to stick to it. But he started making a film on Byomkesh Bakshi. I told him there are others who can do justice to Byomkesh but nobody can blend personal with the cinematic as he did in Chitrangada .”
Female characters were central to his stories and he read a woman’s mind like no other. “I would say that Rituparno had an ability to cinematically explore the nuances of intimate relationships,” says Ghosh.
Dasgupta agrees that Rituparno saw a woman as more than just a body. “He himself was a woman trapped inside a male body and suffered the pain of living in a society that is judgmental.”
There is a school of thought that feels that his preoccupation with homosexuality in the last few years and his inner struggles somehow limited his canvas, but Ghosh sees it differently. “The ‘inner struggle’ you speak of did not belong to Rituparno alone; it belongs to all queer people. As for the ‘preoccupation with homosexuality’, would this question be asked of Guru Dutt or Satyajit Ray, as to why ‘again and again’ they were preoccupied with heterosexuality? Making good films has nothing to do with the director’s sexual preference or that of the characters in the film.”
Rituparno had this ability to give space to the other point of view even if he wouldn’t agree. When one pointed out the inconsistency in Aishwarya Rai’s accent in Raincoat , he said it was his fault as he was not familiar with the vernacular. Similarly, when everybody was drenched in colour he gave black and white a chance in Dosar . Ghosh reminds Rituparno was not the first one to cast Hindi film actors. “Satyajit Ray worked with Waheeda Rehman and Simi Garewal. Sharmila Tagore acted in Ray’s films when she was one of the top actresses in Bombay. Mrinal Sen also worked with Bombay actors.” To somebody who grew up on a diet of Hindi cinema, one found a bit of Guru Dutt and Sanjay Leela Bhansali in him. “I am not sure but these are two filmmakers he found interesting — for very different reasons,” says Ghosh.
Rituparno brought the middle-class intelligentsia back to theatres.