Rituparno Ghosh— a name, a character, a person in the Indian film industry, people will always remember.
Ghosh, the ‘avant garde’ director of Bengali cinema in 90’s who heralded the present Renaissance of Bengali film industry. In fact, he is the one who led a movement in which film directors like Koushik Ganguly, Srijit Mukherjee, Anjan Dutta and others brought Bengali cinema back into the class of Satyajit Ray and Mrinal Sen films.
He is probably the first person after Ray, who placed Bengali films back on the global map. There is no doubt that Rituparno Ghosh created a niche multiplex audience who discovered the rich culture of Bengali novels and poetry through his films.
Today, on his 55th Birth anniversary, when I started writing about Rituparno Ghosh, somehow I went back to the era of Bengali film industry, where we used to get a strong Tagorean essence in Rituparno’s film.
Rituparna Ghosh, who was a follower of Tagore, sometimes he debunked his Tagorean thoughts and sometimes he presented Tagore in his own way through his films. ‘Binodini’ the character from Tagore’s famous novel ‘Chokher Bali’ was presented in a different manner in Ghosh’s film. Sometimes I sensed that the ‘Binodini’ the character played by Aishwariya Rai in the film, was his discover. He re-discovered the Tagorean character. And sometimes, Ghosh and Tagore’s relationship just conclude my thoughts in a different way, as Rituparno Ghosh widely known as ‘Ritu’ tried to bridging the gap between ‘Mahabharata’ and ‘Tagore’. To me that ‘Guru-Shishya’ relationship has some different equation, like— You are my mentor. You taught me in your way. But, I must start my journey in my own way. I have to go beyond all the boundaries.. I have to touch the horizon… I have to smell the renaissance…
Yes, Ghosh has nailed it in his own way.
The way he depicted the multi-cultural place like ‘Varanasi’ in his films by using visionary of Ghats, the evening arti, the death, the crisis of the two women ‘Ashalata’ and ‘Binidini’ and the using of thumri-songs can make a person gobsmacked.
Ghosh’s film ‘Bariwali’ revolves around the crisis of Banalata, a middle aged woman who is lonely and unfortunate. The lady who used to live a secluded life, ever since, her would be husband dies from snake bite, just the night before of her marriage. With no close family members, she used to live with her young maid and a male servant those who look after her gigantic property. A dream sequence of Banalata is worth to mention— women chanting some mantras and taking pheras, especially the sound montage with a lyrics ‘Olo modhu mase biya… basar sajai modhur kalas diya..’ was just a awesome creation by Rituparno.
The film left a strong message. Although Banalata, the charater played by Kiran Kher, falls for a nihilist man, she never showed her vulnerable side of needing a man to complete her life; rather Ghosh depicted her as the woman who is capable enough to handle her life by herself. Somehow, Ghosh focused his cinematic lens on the brutality of the patriarchal society thorough Banalata’s journey.
The journey started in 1992 through ‘Hirer Angti’, Ghosh’s first film. The level of film craft he shows in his later films, especially ‘Raincoat’, ‘Doshar’, ‘Sab Charitra Kalpanik’ and ‘The last Lear’, his global exploration.
Rituparno Ghosh combined both styles in his cinema, which was essentially a peek into the lives of such people, those who are not though economically super rich, but definitely part of the celebrity class. Ghosh’s films were much more about dress, jewelry, life styles and interior decors. Again, I would like to mention the Tagorean-essence in this context, as he revived the Tagorean heritage, the aura of classical homes to furniture, flaunting the Bengali style sarees and heavy jewelries and the pride in hosting Durga Puja— each and every particular Bengali thing he has framed in his creations.
For ‘Raincoat’, he wrote poetry in Brajabuli language. ‘Piya tora kaisa abhiman’ and ‘Mathura nagarpati’ both of the songs were written by Ghosh in Brajabuli and globally hit too. In fact, these songs bagged music director Debojyoti Mishra a cross country project.
Talking about Ritu’s ‘Chitrangada’, it was a rebel work in Indian film industry. Before Ghosh, nobody even attempted such project, where we could see the mix and match of Tagoeran philosophy and homo-sexualism, the way he presented in ‘Chitrangada’.
The German choreographer Pina Bausch ‘fan’ has also implemented his inspiration in his own creation ‘Chitrangada’. In this film, the character Rudy’s journey is his own, as in every particular scene of this film he depicted the emotions of a woman in a man’s body. In ‘Chtrangada’, based on a narrative of ‘Mahabharata’, Rudy aka Rituparno’s character portrayed the experience of a choreographer grappling with his sexual identity.
To me, as a writer, as a thinker, as a filmmaker— Rituparno Ghosh is a remarkable person in the film history and will remain so.