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A trailblazer who made a deep impact
Saibal Chatterjee June 01, 2013
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Rituparno Ghosh will be remembered not only for the quality of the films that he made but for the depth and impact of the ideas that he projected on the big screen
Rituparno Ghosh, one of India’s most talented filmmakers, lived life and made films on his own terms. His death in the prime of an eventful career has robbed cinema in this country of many more classy celluloid essays that might have been on the way.

In a career that tragically lasted only 19 years, Ghosh made two significant contributions as a filmmaker. One, he interpreted Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore in a way that no other storyteller could match.

He adapted the Bengali bard’s stories for Chokher Bali — A Passion Play, Noukadubi (Boatwreck) and Chitrangada – The Crowning Wish, and on every occasion managed to leave his own personal stamp on the work. Two, Ghosh explored human relationships in all their complexities and dimensions, shorn of the formulaic constructs that are designed for mass consumption. Few filmmakers in the history of Indian cinema have had such a deep understanding of the psyche of women and handled emotions in a manner as nuanced.  

Ghosh’s appeal went well beyond the region that he worked in because his stories were universal. They were informed with insights that were relevant to all mankind.

He helped many of Bengal’s commercial movie stars – notably Prosenjit Chatterjee, Debashree Roy and Rituparna Sengupta – to break out of the confines of genre filmmaking and test their skills as actors.

All three of the aforementioned screen performers won India’s highest prize – the National Award – for their work with Ghosh. Prosenjit won a Special Jury Prize for his performance in the marital infidelity drama Dosar, while Debashree and Rituparna won the best actress award for Unishe April and Dahan respectively. Ghosh was also one rare Kolkata filmmaker who found ready acceptance among the biggest stars of mainstream Mumbai cinema.

He directed Aishwarya Rai (in Chokher Bali: A Passion Play and Raincoat), Amitabh Bachchan and Preity Zinta (in The Last Lear), Abhishek Bachchan (in Antarmahal: Views of the Inner Chamber), Sharmila Tagore and Raakhee (in Shubho Muhurat), Ajay Devgan (in Raincoat), Manisha Koirala (in Khela) Mithun Chakraborty (in Titli) and Bipasha Basu (in Shob Choritro Kalponik).

More importantly, Ghosh demonstrated uncommon courage in the way in which he tackled themes of alternative sexuality in three films made in a span of a year – Kaushik Ganguly’s Just Another Love Story (2011), Sanjoy Nag’s Memories in March (2011) and the self-directed Chitrangada – The Crowning Wish (2012).

He played key onscreen roles in all three films. He also directed the last named film, an updated adaptation of a Tagore dance drama that was drawn from the mythic tale of a princess who is brought up like a ‘male’ warrior by her father because she is the heir to the throne.  

In Chitrangada – The Crowning Wish, Ghosh played a choreographer-dancer readying for a performance of the Tagore work even as he struggles to come to terms with his own sexuality and the confused feelings of his parents. The film was noteworthy for its sensitivity and poise.

Ghosh was prolific but always meticulous. In less than two decades, he made 20 films, the last being the incomplete Satyanweshi (Seeker of Truth), his take on an adventure of the fictional sleuth Byomkesh Bakshi that he finished shooting days before his death.

Add to that the fact that he was a television editor and a magazine editor too, and his cinematic output becomes all the more impressive. Each one of his films, including those that were not in his native language, was marked by his trademark storytelling style, which blended Bengal’s classical literary traditions with new-age sensibility and craft.

Born on August 31, 1963, Ghosh was an Economics grad from Kolkata’s Jadavpur University. He learnt the ropes from his documentary filmmaker-dad, Sunil Ghosh, before branching out on his own in the world of advertising.

Ghosh’s directorial debut was the nondescript children’s film Hirer Angti (The Diamond Ring), made in the early 1990s but released only in 1994. It was with the Autumn Sonata-inspired Unishe April (April 19) that he burst on the scene.

The National Award-winning film, featuring Aparna Sen and Debashree Roy as a dancer-mother and her estranged daughter, also fetched the latter the Best Actress Rajat Kamal in 1995.

More recently, Ghosh’s 2010 film, Abohomaan (The Eternal), believed to be but not officially acknowledged as the story of Satyajit Ray’s troubled mentoring of Mahanagar and Charulata star Madhabi Mukherjee, won for Ananya Chatterjee the best actress National Award.

It is significant that Ghosh made his first film only two years after the demise of Satyajit Ray. With only his second film, he was hailed as a worthy successor to the master. He lived up to the expectations although when he started out Bengali cinema was down in the dumps. He swam against the tide and found a way forward not only for himself but for many others of his ilk who followed him into the industry.  

Rituparno Ghosh will be remembered not only for the quality of the films that he made but for the depth and impact of the ideas that he projected on the big screen.

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