The journey of Bengali films which lost the theater travelling audience is indebted to Rituparno Ghosh whose work reinstalled the missing attributes and brought back the charm in cinemas. Death certainly is inevitable. The untimely demise of this cardinal stone of Bangla cinema erased possibilities of classics being adapted with as much authoritativeness. And not only classics, but subjects which were Rituparno’s forte that ranged from the depiction of middle class Bengali dreams and desires to the ferociousness of lust in his National award winning work Dahan. And most recently his films that embraced homosexuality saw Rituparno- the actor in Sanjoy Nag’sMemories in March and Kaushik Ganguly’s Arekti Premer Galpo (Just Another Love Story).
Rituparno Ghosh made films not for banners but to address his audiences about all that he experienced being a part of this dysfunctional society and his inferences of the works of Tagore. The inceptions of his career saw the economics graduate emerge as Kolkata’s (Calcutta during the 1980’s) competent copywriter in the world of advertising. Ghosh’s first brush with cinema happened much later when his agency was commissioned to shoot a documentary for Doordarshan. In the city of trams and hand-rickshaws, Rituparno’s first ideas of feature film making took shape and in the year 1992 his debut directorial work Hirer Angti released.
He beheld the changing times and mindset of post 1990’s Bengal. These careful observations empowered him to use the 35mm canvas to the best of his capability. His movies then were about Bong culture, the ethos, logos and pathos of the Bengali on the streets of Howrah. Unishe April, Asukh, Titli and Bariwali has stood the test of time to back the fact. Deep intellectual influences in his life came from the works of Satyajit Ray whose style of capturing films inspired Ghosh. In the making of these films Rituparno and his writers gifted roles which which had magnitude and definite direction. Moon Moon Sen, Rituparna Sengupta, Aparna Sen, Prosenjit Chatterjee, Debashree Roy, Dipankar Dey, Mamata Shankar, Rupa Ganguly andKonkona Sen Sharmawere the faces of his films in the first two quadrants of his life.
The voice that traveled to film festivals reached a global audience and national audiences now with glittery packaging. Rituparno Ghosh’s films though remained aloof of the conventional definitions of commercial cut; he began casting Bollywood actors in pivotal roles. The Bachchans invested in Rituparno’s vision of making films in Bangla with known faces from the Bombay film industry. Chokher Bali, an adaptation of Rabindranath Tagore’s story by the same name won national award for Best Bengali Feature Film. Raincoat starring Ajay Devgn and Aishwarya Rai later became inspiration for an English film based on the same story. Actors who worked with Rituparno Ghosh acknowledge the fact that the man was well read and had an extensive collection of books which covered dynamically different subjects.
During the last few years of his life, he got actively involved in contemplating the flipsides of alternate sexuality and portrayed them without inhibitions on celluloid. Chitrangada was his last film to be released in theaters with him around to juggle criticism and accolades. It was loosely based on the bard’s dance drama Chitrangada. The film addressed gender identity and Rituparno was seen playing a choreographer in his film.
While the man left back a legacy of films to cherish, he often was prey to mockery and controversies which he tackled with his oratory prowess on his Bengali chat show Ghosh and Co. Satyanweshi was his last film which released after he passed away. In his career spanning 21 years, he brought forth on screen the various shades of women psychology with sensitivity and understanding. His last few works also include Jeevan Smriti– a documentary film on the life and times of Rabindranath Tagore.
Can retrospectives and re-mastered prints of his work fill the void he left behind? On that note I sign off…Breathe Rituparno Breathe.