Rituparno Ghosh’s death – A biggest loss to Bengali Cinema


Too young to die. Everyone from the Tollywood film industry’s who’s who to dazed commoners who gathered before the south Kolkata residence of Rituparno Ghosh on Thursday after the shocking news of his passing away spread, would wonder why he left so early.

But perhaps one of his last films, CHITRANGADA (The Crowning Wish), where he played a gay dancer caught between hunger for love and moral dilemma, has an answer- the impermanence of life.

Rituparno was not just a filmmaker of international repute. He for nearly two decades now and since the passing away of Satyajit Ray in 1992 symbolized all that Bengalis were always proud of- their cultural supremacy. Also here was a man who lived life in his own terms. A gay icon, a cross dresser and yet someone whom the entire Bengali community irrespective of their understanding of sexuality and sexual orientation had accepted as a man of their own.

Versatility is not an easy virtue and Rituparno Ghosh, who died at age 49 in Kolkata on Thursday (May 23, 2013), was not only a prolific filmmaker. He was a virtuoso. He was an actor par excellence, a writer whose weekly articles in a Bengali daily are now priceless collections of many Bengalis’ personal library.

Known for his effeminate bearing, a trait that had been the butt of ridicule and ragging by an otherwise insensitive society, Ghosh had almost changed the discourse on homosexuality and brought parallel sexuality in the mainstream of Bengali life with his powerhouse talent as a filmmaker and cultural icon.

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No one understood better the mind of a woman than Rituparno Ghosh. And very few new avant-garde filmmakers in recent times had hogged the limelight like this former adman- turned-filmmaker- turned -TV and print journalist turned actor.

But while he understood women and offered great roles to actresses ranging from Sharmila Tagore, Rakhee, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Monisha Koirala and Preity Zinta to Tollywood heroines and actresses like Mamata Shankar, Indrani Haldar, Debasree Roy, Rituparna Sengupta and Ananya Chatterjee, he also reinvented commercial actors like Prosenjit Chatterjee with films like DOSAR (Emotional Companion).

Like a bolt from the blue Rituparno stormed the Bengali film world in 1994 with his film UNISHE APRIL (19th April) and went on to make more award winning films like DAHAN (which touched upon marital rape too), ASHUK, BARIWALI and UTSAV, setting new trends in the Bengali film industry and capturing the sensitivities of women, inter personal relationship and human psyche with rare understanding.

Discerning Bengali audience, who had shunned going to theatres after the death of matinee idol Uttam Kumar and since the end of Satyajit Ray-Mrinal Sen era, had come back to the movie halls. His films were huge commercial successes too.

The son of documentary filmmaker Sunil Ghosh, Rituparno had always wanted to make his mark in cinema, inspired as he was by all of Satyajit Ray’s movies. But instead of plunging into films after completing his MA in Economics from Jadavpur University and schooling in South Point School, Ghosh joined the advertising agency, Response, as a trainee copywriter in 1985.

Recalled Rituparno to the writer during an old interview, ”When I joined Response, I neither knew a thing about advertising nor was enamoured of the profession, though my friends in the ad world were too excited about the thrill and creative zest of advertising.” At Response, Ghosh was responsible for creating striking campaigns for Advertisements.

But his enthusiasm for the world of advertising soon faded though his stint in Response taught him the art of effective communication. Ghosh also learnt – the hard way – the nitty-gritty and technical side of the audio-visual medium.

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He was also inspired by a long line of filmmakers, including, of course, Satyajit Ray, Kurosawa, Antonioni, Bergman, Kieslowski, Fellini, et al. Among the Indian lot, he had a great deal of admiration for Mrinal Sen, Buddhadev Dasgupta and Adoor Gopalakrishnan. And then, of course, there is his very own ‘Rinadi’ or Aparna Sen who helped him get a financier for his first full length film UNISHE APRIL.

If fact, Ghosh was so taken with Aparna’s persona that in UNISHE APRIL, he allowed her to retain all the mannerisms that characterize her in real life in UNISHE APRIL that starred Aparna Sen and Debasree Roy in a mother-daughter ensemble cast.

Since the middle of 1990s, Ghosh is hailed as the whiz kid of the Bengali film industry. For the discerning cinegoers in Bengal thirsting for quality fare, he gave films like ASHUK, UTSAV and BARIWALI all exploring myriad layers of human relationships and earning best actress awards for Debasree Roy, Indrani Halder and Rituparna Sengupta and later Ananya Chatterjee.

His adaptation of Tagore’s CHOKHER BALI (Sand in the Eye when literally translated) was widely applauded. CHOKHER BALI was awarded the Golden Leopard at the Locarno Film Festival. Editing film magazines, interviewing celebrities, holding the post of creative director in TV channels, and at the same time making award winning films, Rituparno was a true jack of all trades.

Ghosh had just completed shooting for SATYANEWSHI, a crime thriller where Sujoy Ghosh of KAHAANI fame played the iconic Bengali detective ‘Byomkesh Bakshi’.

But of all films he made and acted, CHITRANGADA was special and more autobiographical though he was highly acclaimed in Kaushik Ganguly’s film AREKTI PREMER GALPO (Just Another Love Story).

‘I think CHITRANGADA will be acknowledged as one of the important movies one day. May be, it will not occur today itself, but that phase of change (in outlook) has started already,’ Ghosh had said in a recent media interaction, commenting on the film that was yet another step forward in the sensitive portrayal of homosexuality as captured in a gay man’s tribulations to come to term with his identity and social reality.

Ghosh always was against being pigeonholed as a Bengali filmmaker and rather wanted the Tollywood industry to be identified as one with the World Cinema.



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