I grew up in a Pravashi Bengali family with quite liberal parents. Baba used to read lot of books and was pretty well - versed with Bengali literature and same holds true for Ma. She is musically inclined too and can effortlessly sing Bengali songs. But I was never introduced or forced into any kind of Bengali "culture" in the truest sense. My parents always believed that with time and the right influence, we will find our way, find our roots, like them and appreciate them. However, baba would always say that you can gain all the technical knowledge and do all kinds of number crunching and analysis but it is literature and good films which will finally smoothen the edges once you learn to appreciate them. And that is how you will truly evolve as a person. But he would also say that good movies or literature is an acquired taste. It won’t happen overnight and never by force.
In the days of Doordarshan, sometimes I used to sit and watch Sunday afternoon regional movies with my family. I was in school those days and pretty naive. For me, most Bengali films were black and white, poorly lit bordering dark, extremely complex and totally sad with too much pain. And that was a total turnoff. In due course of time, I never really bothered to waste time on such inane stuff and to be honest I had to totally depend on the subtitles. Even today, I don’t boast of my prowess in speaking, reading and understanding Bengali. An average Bengali would probably be appalled listening the way I speak but that is besides the point. During my school days there weren’t too many avenues to watch good English films. So fed with typical Hindi Bollywood films or Pakistani mini-series videos, when a Bengali arty film would end, I would ask Ma - so what happened? How can they end the film here? I mean what about the logical end, you know, "and they lived happily ever after or whatever." Ma would smile and state that the director has left the end to our imagination. And I was never satisfied with that answer. So I did not really develop a taste for Bengali films until much later.
During one interesting interaction with a friend while discussing films I made a shallow remark about Bengali films in general. My friend suggested that I should see a Rituporno film. It might change my parochial views. I said that I had heard that she has acted in some good films. And you can imagine the scene. My friend kept quiet for a while trying to keep a straight face and said, “Rituporno is a man, Rituporno Ghosh and he is a director. Rituparna Sengupta is a female, an actress. Maybe you should go back to your trusted Google to enlighten yourself.” I narrated this incident at home. Baba laughed and said – “kobey manush hobi?” (When will you grow up?)
I did go back to Google and I decided to see what this ruckus about an upcoming director is? My first Rituporno film was Dahan. The movie lingered in my mind for quite a few days. I felt like watching it again. And I did. Honestly, I liked the film and everything about it. I went on to watch Bariwali and Utsab. By this time I started looking forward to watching the films and preferred to watch it alone and soak its elegance. (And I needed peace to follow the dialogues and minute nuances). I still remember it was a lazy afternoon when I sat and watched Unishe April. It was a revelation of sorts. I now started understanding the Rituporno phenomenon, his grasp of human emotions and the ease with which he managed to serve it up to his audience. I even went and bought an English translation of Chokher Bali. The book was called “A grain of sand.” I read it and then watched the film. It was mesmerizing. It was much later when I was once chatting with my parents and Ma said, “Aishwarya has acted in a Bengali film.” I said, “Yes in Chokher Bali. It was a fantastic film.” Baba looked up from the newspaper and said, “It is a Bengali film. How do you even know about it?” I smiled and said, “ektu manush hoyechi.” I told them all about the films I have been watching and about Rituporno and his amazing work. People who knew me for some time were generally surprised at my knowledge of such films. An aunty-in-law from California gave me the DVD of Shubh Muhurat. It is through this movie that I realized that Rituporno is leagues ahead of his contemporaries. He could make an engrossing film with three leading female protagonists using a theme like investigation. This is otherwise unheard of in Indian films. He deserves handsomely each and every award and recognition. Bengali films actually came of age during his watch. His films became a turning point for Tollywood like Dil Chahta Hai was for Bollywood.
Rituporno’s films had a significant influence in my life. They helped me subtly metamorphose. The impact was similar to what J.K. Rowling had on children. A whole generation of disinterested kids took up reading voraciously and it widened their horizon. The movies taught me to look at life in black, white, grey and all other colors in the spectrum. I heard about his demise during an awfully busy working day. In the evening, I spent a considerable time reading the news about him. Probably, he knew that time was running out. Chitrangada was most likely his fervent memoir. I have not seen it yet but I will.
There will not be another Rituporno. Thank you Rituporno, for making such wonderful films and opening up a whole undiscovered world for an ignorant me. Today, while writing this, Sony Aath is showing Abhoman. That is the word truly suited for Rituporno.