I planned to write something else that morning. A blank Word doc was open, about to hold a fresh idea, when I turned on the browser to research a bit. Rituparno Ghosh, 49, passes away is the first line which arrested my eyes.
No, it cannot be. Distrusting the particular news site, I googled ‘Rituparno Ghosh’. The headlines came stumbling. I logged onto Facebook. Eulogies poured in, comments, reactions, shock, sadness.
Post lunch we switched on the TV. Nothing is more undeniably real than moving images. We scouted the various news channels, remote switch jumping from one to the other. LIVE said recurring footages of a dead body being carried out of a gate, instant reactions being sought from celebrities rushing along the street, some wiping a tear, studio interviews.
To have so many people crowding one's house front, at 49 years with only 19 films, despite an overloaded booty of disparaging counter-reactions, indicated no mean achievement.
Seven days after, I still can’t believe Rituparno Ghosh is dead.
As the news ticker ran a week ago this day, some entries below on the search page Wikipedia still ironically spoke of him in a present verb-form. Today when I checked, the demise date had been filled in. Someone had meticulously edited the tense.
For all my stoicism about personal mortality and Death as an idea, why has this stranger’s passing affected me so?
Why was I shocked immediately and am lastingly sad?
He never looked three months short of 50, whenever I watched him on television. The zest with which he spoke, the irrefutable logic and conviction in his voice, belied a man capable of slowing down. Yes, his jaws were sagging, the under eyes lined and heavy. But his smile and heart-felt laughter were a child’s. The insatiable curiosity with which he explored different genres and themes, film after film, revealed a spirit striding across many worlds of learning, hungry to explore, hankering for insights. Such a soul is timeless.
My restless brain found resonance in him, rarely disappointed waiting for his next release because he didn’t replicate himself. His cinema was technical textbooks of visual storytelling for me and opened my eyes to new possibilities. Flaws were outnumbered by enchantments.
Rituparno claimed he’d never feature in the world’s first 500 front running directors, an unusual glimpse of modesty from someone always highlighted as egotistic. With such a tiny corpus it’s impossible to compare. That he singlehandedly revolutionized the Bengali movie viewers’ experience post Ray is a history much chronicled.
Repeated negative reviews, and howling public outcry, never stopped him presenting his unique vision with each new film he directed; his thick-skinned stubborn loyalty to his craft delighted me. Wrong casting, weak storyline, overdone sexuality, unacceptable portrayals of feminity, shoddy production details, commercial greed, every abuse hurled fell to the wayside as he went ahead with his next production. The media mentions he didn’t take kindly to criticism and majorly sulked. But that he didn’t make it reason for compromise is praiseworthy.
Then he went ahead and invented the mother of controversies – he cross dressed for public appearances, the only mainstream Indian director who dared.
As his undeniable talent continued to flourish, grudging whispers in Bengali drawing rooms went on. The audience felt almost guilty acknowledging his art. Why did he need to do that -? We hated him for making it so difficult to love him.
I will no longer have to wait for another Rituparno Ghosh movie, that above all else defines my loss. The wait is truely and finally over.
Mrinal Sen hasn’t made a film in nine years, Adoor Gopalakrishnan in four; not many seem to be mourning this retirement. But a promising young artist, who made films, churned ideas and wrote scripts with Rituparno’s prolific speed, had so much more to offer but never will, seems unfair. Recollections sketch him as this erudite, indomitable perfectionist, affectionate if quirky, sensitive persona of many parts – truly a fine specimen of human-hood. A man of the world, of the lost traditions of Bangaliana, perhaps one of the last notables.
Death surely has an immense power to snuff everything out.
There was never dilemma in my admiration for Rituparno. His immaculate sense of style, if a wee bit recherché, made him a charming woman. As a man he looked the geeky Bengali, as a woman he was a thing of beauty, sexy, sassy and chic.
It takes inordinate courage to wear one’s heart firmly on one’s skin. As an apparently ‘straight’ human who is just so tired of the rigid, antipathic, ignorant and hypocritical samaj she lives in, I’m glad Rituparno lived, as he died, haughty and irreverent, a savant and innocent, the enfant terrible, a libel against suffocating Bengali and Indian mores.
I will love him for his cheek, the absolute panache with which he landed one tight slap on the face of this septic tank called society. It may have been brief, but boy, it made some noise!