The talented Mr Ghosh

Compared to the kind of work Rituparno has done, he was underappreciated. But then that is commonplace in Indian cinema.

Over the years, Rituparno Ghosh and I had many discussions about films, their music — we mostly discussed the craft of films.

I recall Rituparno had called me after Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! released, and we had a one-and-a-half hour long chat about the film. He had loved the film, but unlike the insincere gush one hears a lot, he had very clear ideas about why. He also had some criticism about the film’s music — he had liked the folksy, gritty music I had used in the film, but said that he wished I had used that instead of the wannabe thriller music when Lucky goes robbing people. He was right.
After that we met many times, at film festivals, National Awards ceremony. My most recent interaction with him was with regard to Bombay Talkies which, for me, was an out and out venture into background music. I called him up, asking for his advice. I wanted to adapt Rabindra Sangeet and he told me how to do that. After that he was off for his shoot, and we agreed to meet soon...
Films impress you, or they bore you, or they entertain you. Rituparno’s films are very important because they show the way ahead, they tell me, as a filmmaker, what to do — it’s like someone has already solved a problem you are facing now. Apart from Aparna Sen, whose work I have studied, I have tried to learn from Rituparno’s films. For me his films, especially Unishe April, Bariwali and Ashuk, have been hugely important in terms of figuring out which way to take.
It’s clear from the way he portrays ordinary, everyday life, that he knew this world very well. But the way he follows his characters, the way they speak, there are always layers within layers. Four-five of his films remind me of Satyajit Ray’s films of the Sixties. In fact, recently, I was again stuck by the brilliance of Ashukh — it’s a fascinating film about a father, daughter and her ailing mother. There are layers of mistrust between daughter and father. In the film there’s a scene between the father, played by Soumitra Chatterjee, and his daughter, played by Debashree Roy — the daughter comes in and the father starts talking about the mother’s stool, her potty. For me it was a brilliant insight into family life, stillness. It was a scene that went beyond, that said something meaningful.
Rituparno got several awards, national and international, but compared to the kind of work he has done, I would say that he was underappreciated. But then that is commonplace in Indian cinema. People who do alternative work, who belong to a world outside Bollywood and express themselves aesthetically, are underappreciated.
If, for example, Rituparno had been born in France, say he was making films in Paris, films around his intimate life, and experimenting — a free exchange between life and aesthetics — he would have been written about, talk about much more.
The international festival scene, the art film circuit has changed a lot since the Fifties. The advantage he had was that he crossed over and once the world noticed him, India took notice as well. But a flamboyant, deeply aesthetic person and filmmaker like him should have been known much more. But I guess that’s what happens to people who don’t make films in Hindi. Like Aparna Sen.
We have ignored her work for a long time.
I will miss Rituparno, and one of the things I will miss a lot is listening to him talk. I’m a Probashi Bengali — I have lived and grown up outside Bengal. Though I can read, write and speak Bengali, my spoken Bengali is not elegant. It was always a joy to listen to Rituparno speak. He spoke modern, everyday, urban Bengali — but he spoke an extremely lyrical, liquid Bengali.

The writer is a film director and screenwriter. His films Khosla Ka Ghosla and Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! won National Film Awards

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