The In­ti­mate Poet

India Today - - OBITUARY - By Kaveree Bamzai

It is dif­fi­cult to have the courage of in­tel­lect in an In­dia which prizes medi­ocrity in pub­lic life. It is even more dif­fi­cult to have the courage of emo­tions in a world of plas­tic­ity. Rituparno Ghosh who died on May 30 at the age of 49 had both in spades. Whether it was act­ing as the trans­gen­der doc­u­men­tary film­maker in his first film as ac­tor, Arekti Pre­mer Golpo ( 2010), or pic­tur­is­ing the ug­li­ness of Jackie Shroff’s heav­ing body on the gen­teel Soha Ali Khan in An­tarma­hal ( 2005), he was never one to shy away from the raw­ness of sex­u­al­ity. Sur­pris­ing, given how he be­gan, as the trou­ba­dour of mid­dle class ( but never mid­dle of the road) Ben­gali women. The bit­ter­ness be­tween a mother and daugh­ter in the first film that brought him to the at­ten­tion of a wider au­di­ence, Unishe April ( 1994), or the del­i­cate re­la­tion­ship be­tween a fa­ther and daugh­ter in Noukadubi ( 2010), where he in­ter­preted Rabindranath Tagore’s clas­sic, are un­par­al­leled. De­bas­ree Roy and Aparna Sen have never seemed more real on­screen than in Unishe April and Aish­warya Rai Bachchan has never seemed so stripped of ar­ti­fice as in Rain­coat ( 2004).

But like all in­flu­en­tial film­mak­ers, Ghosh’s im­pact has al­ways been be­yond his cin­ema. In his case, per­sonal was al­ways po­lit­i­cal. He walked in the foot­steps of great film­mak­ers from Ben­gal who made cin­ema that was in­ti­mate in its can­vas and yet global in its power. Ghosh’s cin­ema mir­rored his soul, some­times in all its con­fu­sion and at other times in all its pas­sion. Whether it is Q’s Gandu or Kaushik Gan­guly’s Lap­top, Ghosh’s movies opened that door for oth­ers to storm through. He was a pres­ence on tele­vi­sion, a force in print as edi­tor of a Sun­day mag­a­zine, a friend some­times and foe at other times to al­most ev­ery­one of note in con­tem­po­rary Ben­gali cin­ema.

More than any­thing else, he was un­afraid of crit­i­cism, though he didn’t al­ways have the pa­tience to con­vert his carpers. He frankly didn’t have the time, so im­mersed was he in cre­at­ing cin­ema. He loved to ex­per­i­ment, mak­ing the strik­ing black and white Dosar ( 2006) where Konkona Sen Sharma plays a wife be­trayed by the cad of a hus­band, Prasen­jit Chat­ter­jee, she has to care for. Or the force­ful if some­what pedan­tic The Last Lear ( 2007), in English, with Amitabh Bachchan as a fad­ing ac­tor.

And the at­ten­tion to de­tail! Whether it was the drape of a sari on Aish­warya Rai Bachchan in Chokher Bali ( 2003) or the way Soha Ali Khan wore her bindi in An­tarma­hal, he had a hand in it. Like Satya­jit Ray, for whom a film was a com­plete creative en­ter­prise, from the story board to the mu­sic score, as Raima Sen de­scribes it, he was a “one- man show”. From body lan­guage to the lan­guage of lit­er­a­ture, Ghosh had such a grasp of ev­ery as­pect of cin­ema that he never shot too much, and more im­por­tantly for his sev­eral happy pro­duc­ers, did not spend too much.

Per­haps few male di­rec­tors un­der­stood women bet­ter. No sur­prise then that when­ever a Bol­ly­wood ac­tress looked for artis­tic cred­i­bil­ity, Ghosh was the first stop. He was al­ways in process of writ­ing a movie, di­rect­ing it, or more re­cently, act­ing in it, like his last film, Chi­tran­gada ( 2012). Fit­tingly, he died while neck- deep in a new movie, a By­omkesh Bak­shi thriller, Satyanew­shi, star­ring di­rec­tor Su­joy Ghosh. Ghosh was hu­man. He would fight with friends, some­times driv­ing them to frus­tra­tion, like Prasen­jit Chat­ter­jee. He would quar­rel with the city of Kolkata for not al­ways un­der­stand­ing his life­style choices. And he would be in per­ma­nent ar­gu­ment with so­ci­ety at large which didn’t know which slot to put him in: Gay or straight, arty or main­stream, star struck or story driven, brave or self- in­dul­gent.

The sham­bling, in­creas­ingly weirdly dressed di­rec­tor who would go up to re­ceive a National Award for al­most ev­ery film he di­rected, was such a fix­ture at Vi­gyan Bha­van in Delhi that it’s unimag­in­able that he is no more. Who will now make Raima Sen, whose mother he worked with in his first film, Hirer Angti ( 1994) and whom he con­sid­ered to be the daugh­ter he never had, look as if she had de­scended from the pages of a Tagore novel? Who will ever cap­ture the earthy sex­u­al­ity of Prasen­jit Chat­ter­jee? And who will now make those pre­cious lit­tle gems, whose sub­tle glit­ter would leave our eyes moist and our minds daz­zled?


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