Rituparno Ghosh, the cutting-edge, gender-bending filmmaker from Kolkata who died last week has been co-opted by the establishment. Comment by Garga Chatterjee,Friday Times
The acclaimed and recently deceased Bengali film-director Rituparno Ghosh (31 August 1963 – 30 May 2013), though a couple of decades older, went to the same school as me, the very populous South Point High School of Kolkata. It was at one time the largest school in Asia. My secondary standard graduation class was nearly 800 strong. One thing our school did well – before it turned “Indian” (from “Bengali”) in the post -economic “liberalization” era of the 1990s – was that it did not try to inculcate “values” in its students. This restraint has stood many alumni of the school in good stead throughout their lives. For one thing, it made unlearning easy. Due to our lack of “values”, our reverence was shallow in the first place; later irreverence came easily, if one pursued it.
Rituparno Ghosh came to represent some of the better aspects of our school. She lived in South Kolkata and made films mainly in our mother tongue. The fact that media outlets all over India give front-page space to the death of a filmmaker whose medium was not Hindi is worthy of our attention. There are few in the subcontinent whose demise will be met with such widespread mourning in our period, one in which Bollywood, Hindi and India have come to stand for national identity.
Rituparno Ghosh was one such lone ranger. They don’t make ’em like that any more. Or, to put it another way, in an increasingly mono-cultural nation-state, it is getting ever harder to find people like Ghosh. Her death also made it to the front page of newspapers in the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. People in Pakistan may only be acquainted with Ghosh, if at all, through her Hindustani productions. I would invite the people of Lahore, Karachi, Faisalabad and elsewhere to do what they do best: make sure the Youtube ban doesn’t stand between Rituparno and you.
She started life as an ad-man and was tremendously successful at that. Then she ventured into film direction and, as they say, she never looked back. If your diet of films is limited to Bollywood, you wouldn’t know that Rituparno is considered one of the best film directors of the Indian subcontinent in the post-Satyajit Ray generation. Chitrangada, Kashmakash , Mumbai Cutting (segment “Urge”), Arekti Premer Golpo (‘Just Another Love Story’), Abohomaan , Shob Charitro Kalponik , Khela (as Rituparno Ghosh), The Last Lear, Antarmahal: Views of the Inner Chamber, Raincoat, Choker Bali: A Passion Play, Shubho Mahurat (An Auspicious Time), Titli (The First Monsoon Day), Utshob (The Festival). Bariwali (The Lady of the House), Oshukh (Malaise), Dahan ,Unishe April (as Rituparno Ghosh), Hirer Angti (The Diamond Ring)– the long list of films is a testament to the immense fecundity of this director. But it was just not about the number of films. Over the years, Ghosh’s films won 12 National awards in India and also awards at film festivals in Berlin, Locarno and Chicago.
Death can silence in a room filled with laughter. In this case, many Bengalis had been laughing to the blatantly hostile imitations of Rituparno peddled by one Mir Afsar Ali, a comedian and TV anchor of sorts. In that “comedy” show, some hapless young men were shown trying to keep a safe distance from the comedian’s mock-Rituparno. This dangerous portrayal of the queer as a predator who preys on the hapless was sanctioned in the name of mimicry.
Laughter is the best medicine for diseases we wish to keep undiagnosed. Honesty about the natures of human beings would be a good tribute to Rituparno.
As we talk about posthumous tributes, I remember one of Rituparno’s earlier films, Dahon. It’s a story about the trials and tribulations of a woman who is molested on Kolkata’s streets. The real-life Bollywood-style twist-in-the-tale came when the Chief Minister of West Bengal “directed” the cheap drama of “owning” Rituparno’s death. Death encourages selective memory. This Chief Minister had, only a few months ago, termed a rape on Kolkata’s Park Street a “staged incident”. Another MP from her party said that it was not a case of rape, but a “deal” that had gone wrong. In Rituparno’s final journey, these are the people who scripted the show. (The government – irony of ironies – trying to project sensitivity…) No amount of fresh scented flowers can take the stench away from wreaths so rotten.
Sexual minorities in the Indian subcontinent know better than most how the police laathi feels inside their bodies. The brutalization of transgendered individuals is a frequent pastime for our boys in khaki. Some of these lions were lined up beside Rituparno’s corpse in Kolkata. Rituparno’s in-your-face “non-standard” sexual identity, the thing that made many squeamish about her, was removed from the stage-show of her death. (No wonder the police offered her a “gun salute”.) Many were impressed. The laathi has a spongy cuddly heart after all!
Only the guilty are scared of nakedness. And to hide their guilt, they will wear anything, even the shroud of a corpse. This makes them a very peculiar kind of kafanchor – the kind that won’t even wait until the burial to steal the shroud in secrecy. Our sarkari kafanchors carry out their thefts of our identities in broad daylight, in the presence of flashing cameras. They look so somber. (And yes, to laugh at that somberness would also be a tribute to Rituparno Ghosh.)
Such public spectacles continue to animate the cesspool of vested interests that West Bengal has become in the last three decades. Some would argue it was always so. But earlier there would be some distance between the authorities and their critics, whereas now they’ll co-opt their critics, in death if not in life.
- #RIP- Rituparno Ghosh, national award winning filmmaker, no more (kractivist.wordpress.com)
- Rituparno Ghosh: Bengal’s brave, young director (ndtv.com)