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