The talented Mr Ghosh

Rituparno’s films need to be revisited, and screened in the homage sections of the international film festivals in Mumbai, Goa...

He was distraught. Circa 2005, a Mumbai-based film production company, out of sheer oversight, hadn’t entered his film for consideration at the National Awards. “Imagine that!” were the two words of complaint he raised, and went silent on the inexcusable error.

I would meet Rituparno Ghosh occasionally, during his frequent visits from Kolkata to Mumbai, and saw a creative spirit who perhaps never ever got his just rewards, except at the National Awards. His films in Bengali and one each in Hindi and English, would be garlanded by the jury — a consolation perhaps for not finding a wider nationwide audience. In the last five years, his trips to find a toe-hold in the Bollywood echelons had declined drastically. Over the phone, he would say words to the effect that B-town’s high-profile film industry was not meant for him.
He couldn’t fit in, although topline actors — ranging from Amitabh Bachchan and Ajay Devgn to Aishwarya Rai, Manisha Koirala and Bipasha Basu — featured in leading roles in his estimable oeuvre. Ritu was quite amused when he had impulsively approached Kajol for one of his projects, and she had responded, “Yes, of course, I’ll do it.” The film never happened. Quite self-deprecatingly, the writer-director believed that the picky actress had agreed out of politeness. “I don’t think she means it,” he said, and left it at.
Ritu appeared to strike an instant chord, especially with Bollywood’s seasoned actresses: Jaya Bachchan, Sharmila Tagore, and with Raakhee who won a National Award for her performance in his Shubho Mahurat. Ditto Kirron Kher for Bariwali. His rapport with actresses was understandable since the filmmaker unwaveringly placed female protagonists at the centre of his films, uncaring of commercial demands which insist on male-centric cinema.
I had missed out on one of Ritu’s earliest triumphs, Unishe April, an adaptation of Ingmar Bergman’s Autumn Sonata. I was working on one, too, (Tehzeeb) and requested him for a video-cassette to avoid similarities. He couriered the cassette instantly with the note, “Seriously suggest you see it only after you’ve completed your film. Bergman is open to so many interpretations. Best wishes.” When Tehzeeb was released, he wrote to say, “See it now, if you like.”
That was Ritu. Fiercely individualistic and given to narrating stories which were classic, exploring the world created by Rabindranath Tagore, as well as contemporary. He also relished his stint in journalism and TV anchoring. Yet, it was obvious that filmmaking was his core competence. His body of work has an elegiac quality enhanced by top-of-the-line technical finesse from his editors, sound designers, set artistes and cinematographers — and that too, on bootstring budgets.
Economical and restrained, his work was stamped with the kind of poetic metre associated with the best of Bengali cinema. Not that his style was derivative, but the influence of Satyajit Ray was discernible in the selection of themes and stories imbued with humaneness.
Of late, Ritu veered towards a discourse on sexual identity. His last-seen film Chitrangada: The Crowning Wish, deals with a same-gender couple’s attempts to adopt a child. Indeed there was a certain restlessness and even despair in this film, which also featured the director in the leading role.
Rituparno Ghosh, who passed away prematurely at the age of 49, has left us a legacy of as many as 19 films. These need to be revisited, and screened in the homage sections of the international film festivals in Mumbai, Goa and Thiruvananthapuram later this year. That’s the least which can be done for Ritu, a filmmaker who would be distraught by cavalier treatment but would forgive, forget and move ahead, once more with feeling.

The writer is a journalist, film critic and film director

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