The Legacy of Rituparno Ghosh

In the early 90s, there were three kinds of Bengali films.

The taxpayer-financed exercises in intellectual masturbation, which would have a weeks’s run in Nandan before being sent to film festivals in Cuba and Bulgaria,  marked by egregious vomiting, death and long languorous shots of dirty soles of feet, much appreciated by bhodrolok with unkempt beards, jholas, hawai chappals and fantasies about Truffaut.

The Swapan Saha-Sukhen Das jhaal muri of populist entertainment, made largely for a suburban and rural audience, cheap knock-offs of Hindi movies or hyper-emotional tragi-dramas with themes drawn from village Jatras, a spicy mixture of talcum powder, flab, and body-parts bartered for treatment of tuberculosis.

And of course Satyajit Ray films.

Then Ray died.

With it, a significant section of the Bengali urban population, too unworthy for Chiranjeet in a cowboy hat but too cinema-illiterate for the wannabe-Fellinis, stopped watching new Bengali films.

Which is when Rituparno Ghosh came into the frame. And one by one, all those who had fled the theaters came running back.

Like Ray, Rituparno had that deft touch, the ability to tell a story simply and engagingly, without the intrusive heavy-handed direction that sadly often masquerades as “waah kya art” directorial prowess. “Sohoj katha jaaye na bola sohoje” (It’s difficult to tell a simple thing simply) and that Ritu-da, at least in his best works, could do that so precisely is what made him such an amazing filmmaker.

What I found most unique about Rituparno Ghosh, and this perhaps was because of his background in making ad-films, was how he was a true commercial artist. This is even the more unique, since Bengalis, especially those that label themselves intellectuals, consider  “the market” to be Satan itself. Rituparno understood his art. And unlike many that came before him, he also understood commerce. He limited his oeuvre to a world he understood, urban, middle to upper-middle-class Bengal, which perhaps not coincidentally, was also his target demographic. He was out there on TV, in award shows, and in the media, promoting himself and his films, flamboyant and camera-friendly—a far cry from the ideal of the “serious” director, who, at least in Bengal, was expected to speak through his works, and through his works only. He made Hindi movies. He worked with mainstream Bollywood stars, Abhishek Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai and Bipasa Basu at the heights of their careers, and also established Bengali popular stars like Debasree Ray, Prosenjit and Rituparna, none of whom had displayed much in the way of acting chops before Rituparno cast them in lead roles.

And yet, and this is where he was so unique, he never sold out. He made experimental movies.  His characters, even in his most mainstream creations, were broken and cracked and difficult,  not always the easiest to understand or empathize with. He went heavy on dialog and light on action. He loved making his urban audience cringe with gratuitous sequences of menstruation, sweat, and even near-blasphemous imagery. He wore his sexuality proudly on his sleeve, despite the inevitable social blow-back  (A common refrain in Bengali living rooms “Rituparno is a good film-maker, but why does he have to be…err…like that?”)  He explored alternative sexuality in Chitangada and when that did poorly at the box office, he made a detective thriller, but with a non-conventional actor (director Sujoy Ghosh), thus continuing, till the very end, to walk the line between artistic whimsy and market awareness.

While Rituparno may be with us no more, it is this legacy which endures in the new wave of Bengali cinema that so clearly follows the Rituparno model, of which “Bhooter Bhobishyot” is perhaps the best example, which seeks to be entertaining as well as original, providing as it does a much-needed alternative to the derivative  holocaust of the “Challenge” and “Paglu” variety.

Which means that Ritu-da has left his world in a better place than he inherited it, blazing a trail for others to follow.

And what really can be a greater achievement than that?

27 thoughts on “The Legacy of Rituparno Ghosh

  1. First
    and rightly said…..

  2. Good people don’t last long.

  3. Please remove that terrorist, seditionist bitch’s photo on the banner. It’s insulting my shirtless hero, who is a true patriot.

  4. Excellent post!

  5. Damayanti Bhattacharyya June 1, 2013 — 3:10 am

    Beautiful and apt . Thanks Arnab !

  6. Third once again…one more I-tunes gift coupon please

  7. I haven’t seen any Rituparno movie, except “Raincoat”, which I loved. A beautiful adaptation of “The Gift of the Magi”. RIP

  8. Sunglass and the detective thriller are his unreleased work. Wonder why not released yet ? Hindi cinema needed him more. Wonder if he died due to lack of medical wisdom on his doctor’s part .

  9. Nice post! Ray’s last film released in 1991 and died in 1992. So there was only one Satyajit Ray film in early 90s.

  10. Mainstream Bollywood actor Abhishek Bachchan at the height of his career – that was hilarious! 😛 Rest of the tribute is awesome. 🙂

  11. Very well written! Bengal always had a great pool of talented directors. Alas, the world couldn’t see enough of Rituparno. RIP…

  12. Sharmila Ghosh June 1, 2013 — 6:48 pm

    very cheap baseless writing… seems the writer’s world of Bengali cinema is just confined to Ray and Ritu. He has forgotten that even during Ray’s times and afterwards, Bengali cinema was fortunate to have directors like Mrinal Sen, Ritwik Ghatak, Tarun Majumdar of the past era and even while Ritu was around, no less important are Gautam Ghosh, Aparna Sen…
    Yes, undoubtedly Rituporno was a director par excellence but remarking as if he had revived Bengali cinema from the grave, is certainly an overstatement.

    1. Seems you didn’t follow Bengali movies a long time ?? I totally agree with GB. Mrinal Sen and Ritwik were good ART filmmakers with whom typically a few can relate to and rightly pointed ran 1 week in Nandan. Don’t compare them with Ray’s type of movie making which was arty as well as engaging. Tarun Majumder was Rishikesh like in Bengali movies making movies like Dada r kirti and Sriman Prthviraj. But sadly he didn’t make any good movies in 90’s – the time GB points at. His “Alo” was a disaster to say the least. And in 90’s as far as I remember choto-bou, mejo-bou, etc etc bou and swami keno ashami ruled the roost. And that’s the time Rituparno stepped in. He along with aprana sen gave us few of the best movies which brought Bengali bhodrolok back to watch Bengali classy movies again but with interest and proving to be commercial success too. Excellently written article

      1. Sharmila Ghosh June 2, 2013 — 3:00 am

        You have missed out on “Gonodebota” directed by Tarun Majumdar which ran for 6 months at Bijoli (Kolkata) if I remember correct. Yes I agree his other movies have been flops, but my idea of mentioning him was to just to reinforce that Bangla film doesn’t end with Ray and Ritu…
        Yes, for Bengalis living outside India, what GB writes is good enough… something is better than nothing!

    2. “very cheap baseless writing” !!!
      @Sharmila Ghosh, You surely got very angry with GB.

      As far as I am concerned, Arnab captured it perfectly. My thoughts are exactly the same. (There are some more, which I will capture in my blog, sometime…). Regarding Aparna Sen, the less said, the better.

  13. I’m not going into a comparative analysis between directors,all I can say that I disapprove this trend of worshiping rituparno ghosh. He was indeed a prodigal son [ or a daughter] who had given his blood & sweat to tollygunj industry, but his assessment shouldn’t be lopsided. However I appreciate your effort,a gentle pat on your back.

  14. @Arnab … Can you throw some names about the Type 1 movies … would love to see if they fit in so bad they are good category …

  15. Sharmila Ghosh June 4, 2013 — 5:48 am

    An Auteur Who Never Compromised
    In 1994, when Rituparno Ghosh made a quiet, but confident entrance into the middle-class Bengali milieu with ‘Unishe April’, he talked about the aftermath of death. His understanding of his characters, their inability to articulate their emotions came from a deep understanding of the human nature – the article by Premankur Biswas is worth reading

  16. One major aspect of Rituparno Ghosh’s films was his empathy for women and entire narratives based on female POVs. Only someone as insensitive as Arnab could have missed that in toto in trying to muster up a homage piece.

  17. good writing. But I do agree that your POV is a bit extreme in trashing all other directors. Good article still.

  18. We lost a great filmmaker actually……..
    Excellent post sir !

  19. The fact remains that, had Rituparno Ghosh not been there since 1994, the Bengali cinema may have had a completely different reality altogether, one which would have had very little to do with ‘realty’ per se..

  20. sukla bhowmik June 8, 2013 — 1:10 pm

    The death of Rituporno Ghosh is “A great loss” of Film Industry. He was an iconic character, gentle & sensitive human being. He gives us a lot of emotions & realistic creations thru’ his activities at the last moment of his life. In bengali, “abar fire asuk Ritu Porno amather ai Banglai…..”sukla bhowmik”..

  21. Came on this blog after a long time as was busy in my some works.
    Now i am swicting back to greatbong and will keep continuing reading this as its one of my favorite blogs for timepass 🙂

    bengali films..means u are a bengali

    Just in your article

    stars like Debasree Ray, Prosenjit and Rituparna, none of whom had displayed

    — I think after “Prosenjit and Rituparna”, semicolon would work more than a comma 🙂

  22. GB – have you become lazy or too busy to have weekly post or unwell?

  23. Rituparno Ghosh’s most important contribution to Indian Bengali cinema is Antarmahal. No other director in India will have enough guts to make such a film.

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