I was drawn to Rituparna Ghosh for his craft; he had magic with his camera, he could weave poetry with his lens. He followed several styles; I think that he began with Ogo Bodhu Shundori of Salil Dutta in his debut film Hirer Angti with characters going up and down long flights of staircases and prancing about in open spaces. Later in Unishe April, Bariwali and Titli he was like Aparna Sen, in Dahan he was Satyajit Ray in his later day style, in Utsab, he was distinctly Goutam Ghosh and later in Doshor, he tried to be Renoir. But it was in Shubho Maharat that Ritu developed a style of his own. The film was an adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novel, Mirror Cracked From Side to Side and no one and no one could do greater justice to the essence of Miss Marple. And after this film, Ritu took off onto his own in which he became a master class. He left the art house film directors like Aparna Sen and Goutam Ghosh far behind and became the formidable artist of style. His frames and compositions spoke in a language of their own and as the characters spoke out their dialogues, Ritu’s backdrop actually carried the story. Soon Rituparna Ghosh became the auteur of an entirely new genre of Bengali film making within which Anirudha Bhattacharjee, Arindam Nandy, Shrijeet Mukherjee worked and lived. Even the popular potboilers had to change their style in the onslaught of Rituparna Ghosh’s film making.
Ritu loved Tagore, he gave a new context to Tagore songs in his serial Gaaner Opare and even made a documentary on the great poet. His aspirations may have been to become Tagore, the creator of an entirely new culture and sensibility, a figure towards which every kind of style in serials or reality shows, or film making would gravitate. It has been my personal observation that every artist in Bengal lived in the hope to become a part of Rituparna Ghosh’s endeavours; like Tagore he was the great ocean towards which every river would flow in for its fulfilment. Indeed, Rituparna used Tagore songs like no one else in cinema. It was Rituparna who created the cult of returning Tagore to classical Indian music.
The other figure whom Rituparna secretly admired was Amitabh Bachchan; his film with the superstar Last Lear was perhaps a single piece of work but the director seemed to have discovered a Tagore like essence in Amitabh; otherwise he would not have used the song Aaj Jhorer Raate in the voice of Rashid Khan, a song that explored the contemplative surrender of the superstar that so underlie his otherwise angry and rebellious image.
But there were two themes that really marked his cinema; one was the pain of the Bengali male and the other was the peace of death. Whether it is the dead father of Unishe April, or the lost lover of Titli, the director caught between his wife and love in Abohoman, the hapless suitor of Binodini in Chokher Bali, or the ever sacrificing husband of Nouka Dubi, and the star of them all, the unemployed poet played by Prasenjit in Shob Choritro Kalponik, were perspectives of the suffering male in a world order of ever dominating and demanding women. I have a fancy that Ritu’s effeminacy also came from a fear to avoid his failure as a man, a man who could run corporations, manage companies and earn money for fast cars and posh apartments. These deficiencies he hid through the cultivation of his style, his pretence to be a woman, and this is why Arekti Premer Golpo and Chitrangada will continue to be the core of his works.
Ritu believed in death; in many ways he welcomed it. The Tagore song Jibono Moroner Seemana Chharaye in Shubho Muhurat perhaps is the theme song that silently underscores each of his films. Death becomes a relief, redemption, a resolution of every kind of interpersonal conflict.
The media carried his death as a sudden cardiac arrest; but later I learnt that he was suffering from pancreatitis. It could well have been malignant given his unavailability to his friends, his baldness, loss of hair from his face and body and how nicely it was covered up as being another expression of his idiosyncratic experiments in style. I was watching the opening shot of Ogo Bodhu Shundori, a film I feel actually inspired him to make cinema and the shot was a tribute to Uttam Kumar who beneath his smile for everyone, his concern for the sake of cinema, his creativity took all the suffering within him and died in silence. I think in his last moment, Ritu had transformed into Uttam Kumar !!