Last thoughts on rituparno… when the lights go out



There are film-makers. Then there are film critics. And then there is us. No not the audience. We are not audience. We are not the people who go to see films to fleetingly look at the on-going events on the screen while munching our tubs of pop-corn. We do not switch off our mobile phones to show our civilized upbringing- but for other reasons. We do not run out of the hall the moment the credits start rolling on. We do not make one sentence judgement of what we just saw while casually munching on the chicken leg in the KFC outlet in the food-court. We are not the audience. Cinema is not our weekend diversion or distraction before more important work schedules engulf us for the other five-six days. For most of our ilk the work is the five-six day distraction which we deal with to survive. We live in duality. The two worlds. Like the two worlds of tengo and aomamae in 1q84. Our world starts when the lights go out. And the screen ignites in all its brilliance and exuberance. We survive in the real world so that we can breathe in the dark cinema theatres. When the lights go out. We are the cinemaniacs.


Long back in college I was discovering the love of cinema inside me. I had just watched Desica, Kurosawa, Ray, Ghatak, Wajda, Bergman, and Truffaut among others. I had started my life in my world of duality. The customary attendance in the college and then the two rupees journey to Nandan. A ten rupees ticket for the world of cinema to open up. It was in these times when I came upon Rituparno Ghosh. It was a time when we cinemaniacs were running away from Bengali cinema. The demise of Ray had put the last nail in the coffin and the present commercial cinema was a torture for any soul. Don’t get me wrong. I am a happy consumer of pulp. But what was happening in Bengali cinema was beyond pulp.


Someone talked about a very good movie called Unishe April which had got released and was a refreshing change from what was going on. I ignored. The sheer knowledge of the names of the world greats instils arrogance into mere mortals and here I was watching their work day in day out. Bengali cinema was below me. Life was about the world cinema and the time spent in the USIS library hunting through the innumerable film magazines and books. It was after a few days when this chorus of goodness went up that I finally, grudgingly walked into the cinema hall in Rashbehari. A ticket in the fifth row on a matinee show on a working day. This was the third week. The movie was a commercial success.  This was an ominous sign. Undeterred I walked in, I had already made my decision.


Unishe April opens with a scene of death. Rituparno explores death and loss and vulnerability in many movies. His first released movie was likewise,  an exploration of death, of loss… and its impact. I remember going back to watch the movie twice more. It was not about comprehension. It was about the ease of comprehension. In a time when I was delving into avant-garde and was spending countless hours in reading and discussing to digest and make sense  I was firstly dumbfounded by its simplicity and ability to reach me. Then there were the sheer layers and sub layers which made me discover something new every time I went back. It was not realisation, or understanding. But more about discovering those minute details carefully or carelessly left by the director for you to find out. Like that moment of sarojini trying to open the door of the store room with force and the daughter aditi shrieking “ma! Tomar hnatu”(ma your knees). Sarojini looks back with shock. She never expected that knowledge and care from her estranged daughter. In one single phrase the director shakes up the unspoken equilibrium of expectation and knowledge between the mother and the daughter. No lengthy dialogues or scenes. One simple phrase. Or that recipe book scene. First signs of sarojini’s sincere attempts at marital life through the recipe book. “Tumi ranna korte paro?”(you know how to cook?)- Aditi’s surprise at that discovery. The subtleness and simplicity of the final scene is nothing short of spectacular. I have seen a lot of cinema. From all across the world. Great films with their beauty of poetry, allegory, imagination. But my favourites are the ones which convey the most with the least and with pure simplicity. The reaction of Apu’s child when he finally meets his father, “dada ami banchtey cheyechilam”, the reflections of Kambei in the final scene of Seven Samurai, the last scene of “Memories of Murder”…Unishe April’s climax is way up there in this list.


The years of conflict between the mother and the daughter captured again in one phrase- “tumi konodin dekecho amay?” While narrating her claustrophobic childhood when her mother used to teach the other kids dancing while she quietly used to have her lunch and do her homework. Hoping and waiting and then seeing her heart breaking. Then, to her mother’s surprise at her observations and assumption that Aditi never liked dance. That one phrase for me defines that relationship. The problems of the relationship. That one phase for me tells the story of a relationship developed based on assumptions where none walked beyond the assumptions into the real feelings of the other person. That in my opinion is one of the most important truths of human condition. Most of our untested  assumptions are the ones which lead to the demise of relations. All this captured in that one simple dialogue of the hurt daughter-“you never called me in-did you?”


Rituparno ghosh went on to make some of the most memorable cinema which came out in the following two decades. He kept on making cinema till yesterday. Yesterday night he died. After completing the shooting of his last film- a story of the legendary Bengali detective Byomkesh Bakshi.

I am not a film director, or an actor or a cinema worker. I never knew him personally.  I cannot feel him as a co-director as a teacher or an object of criticism. I cannot remember him with the intimacy of a friend. But then  I am not the audience either. I cannot set him aside with a click of my tongue and that momentary feeling of pity. I feel him through his cinema. His cinema which has been talking to me for the last two decades of my growing up and growing old to this threshold of middle age.  Educating me and reminding me of the human condition. Not through complex pedagogy. But simple straight forward yet touching, subtle and intimate vignettes.

The first realisation of a son of the vulnerability and frailty of his father (Abohoman). The way undying love long forgotten and hidden inside the marital battleground of incompatibility suddenly breaks open all barriers and floods our lives when the person is no more (Shab Choritro Kalponik). The eternal compromise of marriage. That the woman keeps making with the man. The all-consuming Lord and the devotee wife (Doshar). The sheer confidence and fore-knowledge of the husband (Prosenjit) almost stung us to this reality. The final scene of voluntary submission tore our hearts. Then there was the chilling reminder of our vulnerability and duplicity in Dahan. I did not watch Dahan for a long time. I was too terrified to watch Dahan. Yes I- who gobbled down Tarantino, Kitano, Miike, Johnnie To, Oshima without batting an eyelid. The violence in his cinema was never physical. It was the attack into your soul. Dahan was frightening for me. I had to muster courage to look at the predicament of a woman who is attacked by man. Being  a man it was the fear of the shame. The humiliation of the truth. Be it the molesters, the lawyers or the husband…. Even today the memory of her rape by her husband suffocates me.

Rituparno’s cinema was like that textbook with those hidden clues. The challenge for us viewers was to discover the hidden clues. Of life’s realities, characters, moral dilemmas… a variety of things. The excitement and fun of watching a Rituparno movie were these moments of discovery. Of the twenty odd films he made there are many I liked and many I did not. I did not like Last Lear much. Or for that matter the presentation of Abohoman. Or Doshar. But in every film of his there were those moments which captured you. Be it the last scene of Lear, the interaction between the father and the son in Abohoman or the first husband – wife confrontation in Doshar. These moments were those hidden gems. Those moments of realization. And they came to us without any ornamentation or complexity. They were intimate and subtle no doubt- but simple and direct at the same time. That’s why his films not only appealed to the cineastes, but also the masses.

Did anyone interpret Tagore the way he did? Perhaps Ray. But then apart from Ray anyone we can think of? Not only the story-telling. The creation of the world of Tagore. The women of Tagore. The aura of the society whose stories Tagore used to tell. Be it Chokher Bali or Nouka Dubi. Or the supreme twist on Chitrangada in his last release. Besides there was the serial with which he was briefly attached. Gaaner Opare. That was the only Bengali serial I followed. I downloaded all the songs. It was his take on those classic pieces of Rabindrasangeet. Through the serial and the songs his stamp his touch was visible and strong. And so welcome!

Bengali cinema in more ways than one learnt Bengali from Rituparno. His endless intellect and scholastic depth gave him his command. Only a person with immense knowledge can put things across with simplicity. His dialogue writing rediscovered the beauty of Bengali language in the cinema. While film is widely agreed as a visual media one of the main attractions of his cinema was his dialogues. The normal day to day conversations which used to reach sublime heights through application. I have said before- “tumi konodin dekecho amay” from Unishe April will remain as his “dada ami banchte cheyechilam”. A simple complaint of love from the daughter to the mother which practically defined the theme of the movie. And in many ways most human relationships.

Finally you can take away everything else. But the visual exuberance which leapt out of the screen itself was enough for revisiting it again and again. If Ray told us that cinema was a visual medium then Rituparno was its most extravagant performer. The colours, the movements, the composition of each frame. Especially in the period pieces or the performance pieces. The dream like Noti Binodini sequences in Abohoman, the dances in Chitrangada,  every frame of NoukaDubi or Chokher Bali… I am sure many critics would have knotted their eyelids and disapproved as indulgence. But what the hell? The sheer beauty of those passages was like ornaments on the lady. Unnecessary yes- but so beautiful! Or the scene of Rakhi-Sharmila showdown in Shubho Muhurat with Anindo rendering “Jibano Maraner SHimana CHaraye” in the next room. With the door locked. It was not glamorous (discounting the two most glamorous actresses of Indian Cinema) but so moving.


Rituparno is no more. Today is the second day without him. His passing has been as unique as his entry into the world of cinema. Sudden, like a flash. Cinemaniacs like me who rediscovered Bengali cinema through him are today numb. But along with us the common popcorn chewing Bengali audience too is today at a loss. Today morning after my latest bout of insomnia my mother came into the room mumbling to herself. When I asked her the matter she replied “ can’t get him off my mind,  can’t deal with it too. Started feeling unwell”. “Who are you referring to?” I asked instinctively. “Obviously that rascal! Why did he have to go so soon?”. Rituparno was the younger brother/ nephew for all mothers, elder brother for all like me…he was not that distant and huge star like Ray. Through his films, his media interactions, his writings he had come too close to us. He was with us- the common middle-class “us”, the cineaste “us”, the sensitive “us”…us, the Begalis. It was not fair, the way he went away. Not fair at all….leaving us to deal with this realisation… walking the streets alone…


One song  kept coming to my mind since yesterday. Those lines from American Pie-

But February made me shiver
With every paper I’d deliver
Bad news on the doorstep
I couldn’t take one more step

I can’t remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride
But something touched me deep inside
The day the music died

Yesterday cinema died… a bit at least. The lights went out…and the screen was blank…





olypub kolkata….

You sit in your seat in the great Olypub with your drink. An unknown person comes and sits in front of you. He is good and well behaved. He starts chatting up with you and you discover that he is from somewhere in old kolkata where you have grown up. You feel good. The nauseating modernness of south kolkata keeps that bruning craving inside you for the unruly nostalgic old kolkata. Then he tells you that he is an IPS officer. You are thoroughly impressed. Though he does not look the part in his podgy bellied self you chide yourself for stereotyping IPSs following bollywood traditions. topic shifts to corruption in society and recent happenings. He nonchalantly talks how the chitfund boss is going around offering half his wealth to anyone who is willing to listen. And other interesting details of his life as the chit-fund boss. Quite an open police officer who shares important secrets with a fellow drunk- you wonder. Especially for someone who has been posted in Delhi andhas come to Kolkata on a special assignment. Time goes on and he keeps giving important insights into his work life. You keep eyeing your friend sitting with you. That look of mutual understanding of not knowing how to react in this situation. The gentleman keeps at it. When discussion floats into the issue of legalising marijuana this man suddenly shows a mark of burnt fingers and tells that he smokes pot 24*7. By this time we are having fun. Pot marks on finger is something new. We keep looking at each other to draw mental strength to prevent laughter. But we are put out of our misery soon. THe climax is reached in a Delhi incident. The one where Sh. SHinde had specifically called him and told him to “oversee” the execution of Kasab. Niladri Bhattacharya- quickly calls for the bill and we rush out. We had expected a burst of laughter- but by the time we were on the street we were confused whether to laugh or to cry.

There are reasons why bengalis simply love Olypub. Its our Coffee House on spirits…

What Happened to Earth Day?

We selected one day out of 365 as earth day. do we even remember it? I didnt…I am ashamed…can some of take this as a bell and begin some work at change? i will try…..


Whatever happened to Earth Day? I remember the first one back in 1970 and I remember the sense of urgency that people were feeling about the planet and air and water pollution and the overuse of fossil fuels and cars and oil and gasoline and carcinogens being everywhere and in everything etc…

We were all worried that if we didn’t change our ways then the future for ourselves and our loved ones would be bleak and filled with more pollution and harder times and wars over oil and…then… what happened? We seemed to just forget about it.
I blame my generation, which was in college at the time, for dropping the ball. We all graduated got jobs, got married, had children and joined the rat race and stopped paying attention and started shopping, eating out and driving SUVs…how did that happen?

Now the Earth is 1 and a half degrees…

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Talking of the two best of 2012; Why i loved GOW more

I had seen shanghai with huge expectations. In fact expectation is the wrong word. It was a decided reaction. I had gone to the cinema hall expecting to be in love with the movie. It was made by one of the foremost directors of our times. It had my favourite bengali star in a special role. It was also adapted from a book whose original adaptation had left me floored. There was nothing that could go wrong with shanghai. The film started with all the anticipation and after the mandatory 100 minutes in the hall my smile had not left. I was ranting how great the movie was- and truly even now I would say it was one of the best of the year. However somewhere deep inside there was a churning – an effort to assimilate the reasons for the film being so great.

Truly there was a lot to love about shanghai.In fact there was everything to love about Shanghai. Prosenjit’s performance as the shaded activist- brilliant. extremely commendable performances from Abhay Deol and my favourite crush- Kalki Koechlin. But the show stealer- pure brilliance from Emran Hashmi. He had taken the wind out of everyone by his 440volt performance as the lecherous, stupid, dirty do-gooder. And what a support cast! supriya pathak showed her class in a single scene. Farouque sheikh the aged scotch. And then there was the story. Powerful, smart, taut and dead serious as a thriller. Less as a thriller and more as a commentary. As the weeks passed on i kept having the tinge of that smile of satisfaction. However the churn inside did not go away.

What really did not work with shanghai?

Shanghai tells the story of an imaginary land. somewhere in north india. presumably. The fulcrum of the movie revolves around a guy who is a principled activist and an opportunist at the same time. With women and with other things in life. It was the story of his death and those people around whom his death revolved. His character sketch was such a relief from the jeetendra days. But was it unexpected or was it refreshing as a concept?… No i guess. the fact that prosenjit put in his charm and brilliance in it was definitely a joy. But it was almost expected that he will be a principalled activist at one level and also as a human he would have his frailties. So the question was by showing his weakness for women was was really being achieved. Yes, we were seeing a believable character. But was that enough? Or for that matter why did Kalki’s charater’s father have to be shamed for her to be on the edge? Was’nt it a bit too straight-forward and expected? Thus also boring?

The clear problem with shanghai was its lack of effortlessness in terms of credibility. Dont get me wrong. It is a very well made smart movie. But that smartness does not seem to naturally blend into the tapestry. Its smartness is worn on its sleeve. The scene where the politicians keep repeating “Jai Pragati” the same is clearly underlined. In reality no Party will be calling itself Pragati and the whole smirk at “development at the cost of what” is too expected and superficial. For a serious film it needed to be more credible and subtle about its insight and message. The other issue with the film starts here. It is with the basic premise of taking up an un-named state. The departure from reality for the movie starts exactly here. Yes a lot of what happens in the movie happens in real life. But where in real life? This is a country where every 100km civilisation changes. And for exactly the same reason the reality of a story needs to be rooted to the region no matter how universal its message is. The script for Kahani will not work in a setting of Delhi where the police officer will be uttering 50 MC-BCs and leching away at the heroine. Similarly the Khosla Ka script will not work in Kolkata as here the land mafia will behave in completely different way and will be much more party-politics centred. And besides the city of Delhi has the concept of con ingrained in it. 

So the core issue i have with shanghai starts with the fact the we do not which which india it is showcasing. And so we cannot really relate to the behaviour of the protagonists. The opposition leader behaves like a maharastrian hardline politician. The chief minister is like some reincarnation of the older Gandhi (brilliant cameo by Madam Pathak). Emraan Hashmi’s character is confused between a Delhiite/ a Rajasthani immigrant/ a small city bimbo. AGain let me state that the performance is brilliant. but the character does not seem to be rooted anywhere. If you feel i am going tangent then compare him to the Chunni in DevD or Bangali in Oye Lucky… Or Khurana in Khosla… All the other characters mentioned are clearly identifiable with their teritory. Apart from the fact that these were really well written and memorable characters. However I simply cannot clearly place Emraan’s Jogi. All i can say is that he is a small town bumpkin.

The same comes with the overall setting of the film. the location. How its used. It simply is pushed to the background and to the level of being irrelevant. That in itself is ok. But when you are making a film where location and culture is going to play such a big role you cannot just push it to the background can you? That is where the credibility of the film weakens to a large extent. It almost seems not rooted in real people or situations. Something like that worked in Ketan Mehta’s Bhavni Bhavai as there he was deliberately trying to mirror our times through a fable set in medeival times. But here the director is telling a realistic story in our times. Its not a fable or a fantasy.

In conrtast to all this i saw the GOW series. i had gone with mixed expectations from a gang war movie. The expectaiton was mixed primarily as a gang war movie had been done to death by various directors across the world. Including bollywood. I went for the film primarily because of the director. However here i found exactly what i was missing in shanghai. Here the director was not trying to do anything other than tell the tale. He was telling a simple tale of revenge in a land. The land and the personality of that land did the rest of the work. Be it the APu trilogy or the samurai series of Kurosawa or more recently the movies like In the mood for love, Old Boy, Farewell My Concubine etc etc. They have also been ingrained in the society and the culture where they have been made. Very strongly so. That is also what was so strongly refreshing about the movie GOW. The fact that it was so strongly rooted in the society and the time where it was telling the story. It used Bollywood and obsession for Bollywood brilliantly to showcase time, Fashion aspirations of small town youth through the last 70-80 years. also the location. This film would not have worked in karnataka or maharastra. It was the story of dhanbad. It would not have worked with the wagon breakers of bengal also. The core of the movie had that personality which was extremely rooted to the terrain of dhanbad. The people, The land and the economy.

The biggest triumphs of GOW were its simplicity and its core involvement of the roots of the story. That is exactly where for me Shanghai failed. It was a “smart” movie. A very well made movie. But it slipped away in its credibility. It failed to affect. As it was posing. Not being.

Cut me down if you want to but i saw similar trend in LSD. Again an extremely smart movie. Done on a shoestring. But a movie taking itself too seriously and too self conscious in my opinion. Again. Do not get me wrong. We are not talking mediocrity here. We are talking of two of the best directors of present indian film industry. LSD was for me bordering on gimmicky. I hope it was for a very good reason. The use of non-actors. The mode of shooting everything had that thing of not “being” but “pretending” to be in it. It was not reality infolding but a make believe. For the kind of cinema Diwakar makes this was not correct.

However the moment you move backwards from LSD to Oye Lucky and Khosla, the scenario changes. When he is telling the stroy of the delhiite he is much more rooted. Much more knowledgable about the environment. In fact that alone more than anything else gives such high level of credibilty to these movies. You feel lucky and the khoslas in you. If you have been in delhi or even met a delhiite you know what those situations are about. You can relate to those situations so strongly. Thats why those films work. And work so damn well. Actually diwakar knows delhi. He is a delhi boy. But as a filmmaker he also needs to “know” the other cities and localities for him to make consistently credible cinema. For him credibilty and hundred percent credibility is very important. He is no karan johar.

Anurag Kashyap knows his environment. He pushed the screen-writer of Gulaal to root his story in Rajasthan. FOr that he spent months in Rajasthan understanding the terrain, the social realities, the culture. The rough and dry Gulaal could not have found a better setting than the sands of Rajasthan with the THakurs who historically spilled blood effortlesly for honour. His DevD showcased the raw sexuality of an young girl through the sunflower fields of punjab. A bombay girl would have been smarter. A bengali village girl less aggressive. A Bengali DevD would never have worked. 21st century bengali guy would perhpas moved on effortlessly. He thinks from his brain not his heart or his you-know-what. Also he would lack the balls to subject himself to so much debauchery and degradation. In the second part the setting quickly moves to Delhi Paharganj as the debauchery of the punjab guy needed Paharganj and its sleaze. Anyone who has lived in delhi will not bat an eyelid when you show him a tap-dancing performance in a hidden bar behind a shutter.

2012 was an year which needs to be remembered in Indian cinema. It saw some of the best films of recent times being released. SHanghai and GOW would be at the top of that list. In fact GOW was at the top of the list in the best international cinema as reported by Hollywood Reporter. The fact that finally after the emptiness of the late eighties, nineties and good part of 2000 we are finally seeing some quality being reinjected into indian cinema is largely thanks to AK and DB. They are truly the flag bearers of quality cinema in this country. However in the last few outings of Diwakar i am a tinge concerned about his lack of investment in the premise and the roots of his stories. Because the credibility of a story comes from its roots. ALso he needs to inject genuineness into his tales. For the kind of cinema he makes he needs to be very conscious of this. For the sake of indian cinema…..








Thoughts on need

There are times when you come across something which engulfs your imagination. A time when you are asking for something to inspire you for sometime- to let your internal urges be brought out, sympathized with and expressed through something. And then amidst your struggle you find something which you were not exactly looking for but somehow they more than give simple expression to the simple struggle which you were having inside your being.

Through my travels and my introspections over the last few months and long before as passing snapshots during my hectic work life i had been visited by this occasion longing for the cozy corner. With two people living in a three bedroom apartment the space and the elements in the huge space endlessly challenging the existence of us two, I used to get this vision at times. The vision of me with a book in a small corner of a small room. That vision was like bliss. As work and life all around kept moving at a frenetic pace and a direction which belied any purpose i kept getting this vision more and more. The initial gasp of objects which engulfed my increased pay package started looking futile. Piles of clothing, cds, shoes, furniture….there were rooms and furniture pieces which used to get used once in a month or less.


Post my decision to take a break and through my journeys in a small suitcase and a laptop bag I have experienced the expanse of life which resides in the living room. I have understood or rather rediscovered the fact that life resides outside the house. It resides in our actions, our experiences, our relationships. I feel blessed in a way to have touched upon this realisation as I keep seeing scores of friends moving on in their pursuit of space, of object and moving further away from the life experience. Whether i will have the guts to complete my journey in life in the principles I believe in remains to be seen. However now i am happy with my realisation.

Graham Hill’s thoughts and his article comes at a time when all these thoughts were angrily revolting inside for an outlet. He in a way personifies the person i want to be at least in a few aspects. His basic question towards life of how much a person really needs to live, in form of objects and elements, is a fundamental question which everyone in this world needs to ask. Especially at a time when the world around keeps displaying lust for more and more space. living space. one, two , three apartments… or more….this real estate madness…

I request readers who bump into my blog to eye this article. It may make them rethink a few things.