RITUPARNO GHOSH – The RENNAISANCE man of Bengali Cinema

Rituparno Ghosh – I call him the RENNAISANCE man of Bengali Cinema.The world of Bangla cinema was almost on ventilation with Mrinal Sen and Ritwick Ghatak already taken a long hiatus; and even the mighty Ray had significantly reducing his work and finally left everyone bleak and dry in the year 1992. It had gotten marred by the meaningless ramblings of a certain P-C-TP trio of leading men, and equally disappointing Roys – D or S as the leading women. Content had died its natural death, the cinelovers had gone completely blank on anything positive in Bengali cinema, and the urban middle class had stopped going to the theatres to watch bangla films. It was at this time that Ritu’da (as he was lovingly called by all) brought in a fresh lease of life to the perishing industry.

He brought back content and meaning to the rich stories he told. He brought back aesthetics in the drama depicted and pathos and emotions in the relationships he sketched, and very few filmmakers understand and capture relationships the way he could. He extracted the actor out of Prosenjit Chatterjee when he was almost lost directionlessly, he nurtured the likes of Jisshu Sengupta to make actors out of them, he gave cinema the strong female anchors in Konkona Sen Sharma and Raima Sen, he cast mainstream hindi film actors in roles that no one else would have imagined in, and told some most deep sensitive stories of extremely strong women. He single handedly won 11 national awards for his cinema (and there were many more that his actors or technicians got, for working in his movies). He got back the bengali cinegoers to the theatres. And he probably inspired the likes of several filmmakers of today like Kaushik Ganguly to make the movies that they make today.Rituparno Ghosh left behind his world of magic at the shocking age of 49 to find a more peaceful abode. Perhaps the world had become too cruel to him for being different from the rest. Perhaps he was losing it to live in his own peaceful way amidst all that he was going through. But what a loss it was… The world of cinelovers will miss him and his cinema for ever. There will hardly be anyone like him again. But we can only be counting our stars that we were in the same era when he was creating spectacular cinema that will become timeless for ages.On his day, here is a little note on my top ten absolutely favorite films of his (directorials only). Here is looking back at them possibly in the order of how they have stayed back with me, but this does keep on changing from time to time as I keep revisiting his filmography…

01. UTSAB (2000) – This will top my every list of his movies. I have lost count of how many times I have seen this film, and its my must watch pujo film every single year. I just find it so beautifully done. Mamata Sankar, Rituparna Sengupta, Prasenjit Chatterjee, Madhabi Mukherjee and even Arpita Chatterjee – all deliver standout performances in their individual roles. The complex web of relationships is brilliantly woven and the overarching narrative is outstanding. Here was a screenplay that did justice to the perspective of every single character, and we know where they are coming from. I think Utsab also comes closest to Ghosh paying tribute to Ray’s house of film-making. Truly superlative stuff.

02. UNISHE APRIL (1994) – The very first of his features on relationships, Ghosh made a bold statement with this film that he had arrived. A brilliantly understated plot and the tussle of emotions between two extremely strong women in Sarojini and Aditi, Aparna Sen and Debashree Roy challenged each other to outperform the other one and how! With this film, Ghosh showed us how one-day stories can also never feel slow for a second, how classics can be adapted to the perfect bengali milieu, and how the undercurrent of emotions can be made relatable to the average bengali.. so much so that ordinary growing up girls like me could start personally relating to the Aditi’s ways of the world so strongly! Unishe April is certainly one of the best takes on Mother Daughter relationships!

03. DOSOR (2006) – Here was a film that had such a strong performance by the mighty Prasenjit Chatterjee that you would start to empathise with him in his journey even when you know that he has wrecked his world and Konkona’s by breaking all barriers on infidelity. Both him and Konkona are perfectly cast and deliver knockput performances. Kudos to the director for choosing the black and white medium to create the grey characters and their bleak worlds. Where understatement speaks louder than all the words anyone could have imagined!

04. TITLI (2002) – Titli is my second favorite of the mother daughter relationships in this list. The spunky, emotional and plain jane Konkona is brilliantly contrasted against the matured, dignified and all so beautiful Aparna, as are their feelings and emotions for the common man they both love in their own ways. And then there is Mithun Chakraborty in his very best, adding so much more color and weight to the film.. Titli also stands out as one of the Ghosh movies where nature and the beatiful hills of north bengal is wonderfully captured, and the ‘megh peon‘ totally delivers the messages that it needs to through its gloom and charm alike!

05. SHUBHO MAHURAT (2003) – Now, who would have thought that the director could take a Agatha Christie story and create such shades of characters and relationships through that and yet deliver such a spotless thriller! Rakhee plays a fantastic Miss Marple, and is wonderfully supported by Nandita Roy and Sharmila Tagore to bring alive Shubho Mahurat, which possibly stands apart from rest of the Ghosh movies in its treatment and subject as well. Although he miserably failed with Satyanweshi later, I think that was a missed opportunity because of casting Sujoy Ghosh in that role. Otherwise a man with such solid handle on complexities of relationships should have hit the ball out of the park with Byomkesh Bakshi thrillers like he did with this one!

06. ABOHOMAN (2009) – With Abohoman, Rituparno was paying tribute to a filmmaker, the filmmaking flamboyance, the world of proteges and how very often they wreck the marital households. He cast Dipankar Dey and Mamata Shankar as the celebrity couple (she was also once his heroine and now a wife), and Ananya Chatterjee as the much younger protege, while Jisshu Sengupta played the son caught in the cross fire. Both Dipankar and Mamata delivered spectacular performances lending such dignity to their parts, while Ananya did well with a difficult role. This film grows on you with every watch.

07. DAHAN (1997) – This was Suchitra Bhattacharya’s story brilliantly adapted to screen by Rituparno Ghosh. Through the very different but somewhere similar characters of Keya and Jhinuk, Ghosh zoomed in to the challenges that independent free thinking women face irrespective of where they come from, and both leading ladies were in pretty good form. The letters that Keya (Rituparna Sengupta) writes to her sister, and the conversations that Jhinuk (Indrani Halder) has with her highly matured grandma (an excellent Suchitra Mitra) form the soul of the film and haunt to this date.

08. THE LAST LEAR (2007) – Amitabh Bachchan has often thanked his stars that this movie gave him the opportunity to work with the Maestro as well, and what a film it was. Amitabh Bachchan and Arjun Rampal were brilliant, Divya Dutta was solid as always, but Shefali Shah was the real show stealer of this movie as was the screenplay and script. As I write through this, I realise that The Last Lear is one movie I have probably watched the least amongst all his movies that I like, and its time that I revisit it soon!

09. RAINCOAT (2003) – This was the only hindi movie that Ghosh made, so this was special. What is even more special that he could even make Aishwarya Rai act so well in this movie, that too in the role of a simple woman where everything of her’s had gone wrong! A great adaptation of ‘The gift of the Maggi’, Raincoat will also be remembered for the impeccable Ajay Devgan, a very impressionable Mouli Ganguli and some fantastic vocals of Shubha Mudgal on Gulzar poetry and Debojyoti Mishra music!

10. NOUKADUBI (2010) – Its only natural that like many others, even Ghosh could not resist adapting Tagore in his work, and thankfully Noukadubi was so much better an adaptation than the overhyped and underdone Chokher Bali! The Sen sisters, especially Ria Sen, held the movie firmly on their shoulders and how! I found Ria’s Sushila in this movie heavily inspired by Raima’s Ashalata of Chokher Bali, and that was perfectly ok since that got Ria Sen to act and emote like her much more talented sister, while she was very well supported by Jisshu. Again, some brilliant usage of Rabindrasangeet in the cinema to lend more depth to the situations.

Besides these top ten favourite films, here is shouting out for Chitrangada: The Crowning Wish, Asukh, Hirer Angti, and Sab Charitra Kalponik, which stand on their own ground.

Bariwali and Khela turned out more average affairs for me considering the benchmark of his other films, while the films of his that haven’t worked for me at all are the overhyped Chokher Bali, the pretty on your face Antarmahal, and Satyanweshi which is possibly his weakest film.

A retrospective on Rituparno Ghosh cannot be complete though without remembering three of his other works outside his direction in movies:

  • As the anchor and creator of TV shows – ‘Ebong Rituparno‘ and ‘Ghosh & Co.‘ Even ‘Gaaner Opare‘ and ‘Bahanno Episode‘ had a certain Rituparno quality around them.
  • As the brilliant actor playing a version of himself in Kaushik Ganguly’s ‘Arekti Premer Galpo‘, or Sanjay Nag’s ‘Memories in March‘, or his very own ‘Chitrangada‘. His creative influence in the first two films is very clearly visible.
  • As the writer of the column ‘First Person‘ that got published as a 2 part book by Dey’s Publication later.

These are added feathers on how brilliant his body of work was and the legacy that he has left behind. He continues to live on through all of this and more. Its been such a void in the world of cinema and art that he left everyone so early, may be he was done with this world’s tricks! To borrow from a song from his own film, his journey can possibly be summarized as..

Khela khela diye shuru.. khelte khelte sesh…
Keu bolechilo chhi chhi… keu bolechilo besh….
Keu beshechilo bhalo…
Keu khujechilo alo…
Keu alo khuje payni bolei hoyto nirudyesh….

Bhalo theko Ritu’da! Jeikhane i achho anonde theko…

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Copyright ©2020 Jayashree Chakravarti. This article cannot be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL can be used instead.

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