Celebrating Indian cinema beyond Bollywood

Rituparno Ghosh with
Amitabh Bachchan while
filming The Last Lear
FOND MEMORIES: Rituparno Ghosh with Amitabh Bachchan while filming The Last Lear

By Amit Roy

SOMETIMES we need to be reminded there is Indian cinema beyond Bollywood.

Sangeeta Datta

Last week, for example, the writer and filmmaker Sang­eeta Datta launched her book on Rituparno Ghosh, one of the most talented di­rectors in Bengali cinema, at the British Library.

Rituparno Ghosh: Cinema, Gender and Art, is edited by Sangeeta, along with Kaustav Bakshi, of Jadavpur Uni­versity in Bengal, and Rohit K Dasgupta, of Loughbor­ough University.

Rituparno died suddenly at the age of 49 in 2013, but not before he had made 20 films in 20 years.

One that attracted attention outside Bengal was Chokher Bali (meaning “sand in the eye” – or irritant) in 2003, an adapta­tion of a Rabindranath Tagore story which starred Aishwarya Rai Bachchan.

As a student, Rituparno was bullied although he had not come out as gay. Later, Kolk­ta

Rituparno Ghosh directing Aishwarya
Rai Bachchan in Chokher Bali

society was much more tolerant of his sexuality and his distinctive sartori­al style.

Sangeeta has also been working on a documen­tary on Rituparno, whom she first be­friended during their student days in Ja­davpur. Bird of Dusk will premiere in New York on May 10 and in London on June 22.

Some saw Rituparno as a worthy succes­sor to Satyajit Ray. Rituparno’s reputation was such that not only Aishwarya, but even Amitabh Bachchan was willing to come to Kolkata to work with him for the 2007 Eng­lish language movie, The Last Lear.

In a tweet last year, Bachchan remembered the director: “10 years of The Last Lear… my first film in English made by the iconic Rituparno Ghosh… he left us too soon.”

In a conversation last week with Muku­lika Banerjee, director of the South Asia Centre at the LSE, Sangeeta revealed that when Aishwarya arrived in Kolkata, fresh from making Devdas in 2002, Rituparno made the actress take off her mascara and the rest of her make-up, criticised her in front of everyone and “shook her confi­dence”. Aishwarya was “intelligent enough to take it” and, stripped of her Bollywood psyche, impressed as “a director’s actor” in Chokher Bali.