Rituparno Ghosh (1963-2013): “Mathura Nagar Pati Kahe Tum Gokul Jao”
by Seuty Sabur, for AlalODulal.org
I am not able to concentrate for the past two days. It has been pouring since Thursday. The rain nor sun affects my mood that much, wind does… and there were gusts of wind coming in circles…potted plants at my office windowpane committed suicide twice; they were too fragile to withstand the wind. It was raining when I was returning from my office, creating speckles on car window. While I was staring blankly I just noticed a man holding a half dressed (skinned) chicken: its feathery wings are stained with blood, dripping from its half hacked head. I wanted to look away. All I saw was a bloody orange sun setting against grey hued sky, Korail slam kids were happily cruising in the rain in the foreground. So banal, so morbid, and yet so much of life out there; just like beloved director Rituparno’s films.
I am trying to figure out why I am so upset with the news of his demise. I wouldn’t call myself a fan of Rituparno Ghosh. Yes, I have watched most of his films, much like many others. I even thought Aishwariya in ‘rain coat’ was insufferable. His tendency of name-dropping and chasing the big cast of Bollywood confused me at times. And yet, I would wait for films like ‘Dohon’, ‘Unishe April’, ‘Titli’, ‘Utshob’, ‘Chokher Bali’, ‘Noukadubi’ and others. His early talk shows with all his nagging (nyakami) and intellectual showing off (Atlami) were bit off-putting, until I watched his encounter with Mir (comedian-host of Talk shows). I was awed by his careful articulation of his politics without losing his temper even after being mocked at. No one in Indian cinema would risk wearing his/her homosexual-transgendered identity on his/her sleeves, not with such grace. And that is when my fictional love-affair with Rituparno quietly started.
When I first saw ‘Piya tora kaisa abhiman’, I knew that he was my man. I may not like Aishwariya in ‘Raincoat’ but how can anyone forget those verses and splendid soundtracks woven meticulously with stories. Who can tell those tales of waiting, unspoken love, ‘abhiman’-whirlpool of emotions with such subtlety and elegance? For days I would be high on ‘apne nayan se neer bahaaye, apni jamuna khud aap hi banaave, lakh bar usme nahaye, pura na huyee asnan’ (I let my tear flow, made my own Jamuna, in that I bathed hundreds of thousands bath, yet my bathing remains incomplete). There was my man, overwhelming me with his creations one after another.
I had to wait till ‘Shob Charitra Kalponik’ to find my version of Rituparno. It is not very difficult to see the transition he made in this film. He set implosive characters for a journey to discover inner ‘selves’. His stories gravitated towards middle class exploring their discomfort, dissatisfaction, anguish, love, joys, and above all ‘Abhiman’ (how does one translate this emotion in any language other than Bangla?).He admired/critiqued them with love. Rai’s journey in ‘Shob Charitra Kalponik’ is an amazing tale of an individual ending up in a poet’s world by marriage, negotiating with the mundane. An epic end arrives with her husband’s sudden death when she was about to divorce him and live her life with Shekhar, their mutual friend. Poetry happens to her when the poet was long gone. She fell in love with the female protagonist of the poem, got mad when she realized that he stole everyone’s (even hers) mundane (which he estranged himself from) life to create his poems. She travels in his make-believe world.
Only Rituparno can make the trivial look so beautiful, a beautiful so banal. Only he possessed a feminine heart which is beyond any male director.
The opening Shongkho of film ‘Chitrangada’ and rehearsal shot blew me away; it sent a shiver through my spine. I choreographed and acted as ‘Chitrangada’ when I was 13. That is a strange age to be – with hormones running through one’s vein, the wrong parts of the body growing aimlessly. All of a sudden, one becomes aware of the world that she had never known before, or dared to venture. It is the age when one finally grasps that the world is divided into two parts – tangible and intangible. In that intangible world one starts to live one’s fictional lives, with unsaid words. It is the age when a girl constantly runs away from hands (visible and invisible), and touches (familiar and strangers’). This is the age one stops loving one’s body.
Like Rituparno, I made my wishes on falling stars and eye lashes. A teenager who was desperately trying to fit into a man’s world by becoming one in order to fight back sleazy men around…as a naive 13 year-old, I also thought of growing balls, metaphorically if not literally.
It was ‘Chitrangada’ the dance drama that made me critique Robi Thakur’s brand of beauty. I would wonder why it is ‘Chitrangada’, the emasculated feminine protagonist who had to worship cupid for her beauty. Where is her dignity as a person? Why is she eager to surrender her power to Arjun? And needless to say, I hated Arjun in the drama. I would imagine my co-dancers in skinned colored gymnasts’ costume, using body binders for female leads with minimal make up to shred every possible bit of glamour from the drama. While playing the character, I realized that in this world is mine, as much as it is of any man standing before or after me. All I needed to do was to embrace my femininity, be the person I wanted to be, and reclaim my space. I loved the fact that Rituporno introduced the film ‘Chitrangada’ as a tale of ‘wish’/‘desire’ to be. I was in tears while his journey was unfolding in Chitrangada – his desire to be a woman, breaking free from the body barrier and finally opting for sex reassignment surgeries. In that short time span he managed to drag me into his life, live it vicariously.
When he articulates, ‘he doesn’t dance with his body but he dances from within’ he engages with the dancer that I once was. When he asks, ‘what is permanent ma? The body that we believe is permanent that too can change.’ He poses a question that is beyond any logic of performitivity. In my mid-thirties we had the same journey together all over again, and all this while I was thinking if one becomes what s/he wants to become then what will be left to live! Who knew his crowning wish would be granted; and that there won’t be any track remaining to trail and he would return to where he belonged.
Seuty Sabur is Assistant Professor of Department of Economics and Social Sciences at BRAC University, Dhaka. She blogs on AlalODulal.org
Editor’s Note: “Mathura Nagar Pati Kahe Tum Gokul Jao” is a song from the film RAINCOAT, written by Rituparno Ghosh. It is in Braj Bhasha, closely related to Hindi, and means, “O King of Mathura, Why are you returning to Gokul (place of your childhood)” or Mathura-r nogor poti tumi keno Gokul-e pherot jao?” in Bengali. It refers to Krishna leaving his kingdom and going back to the simple roots of his childhood / birthplace. A full translation is available at http://bansuri.wordpress.com/2007/03/03/mathura-nagarpati/. Thanks to Udayan Chattopadhyay for the note.