Rituparno Ghosh, Bengali Film Director, Dies at 49
By HARESH PANDYA
Published: June 3, 2013
Rituparno Ghosh, an award-winning, internationally known Bengali director whose films about women, sexuality and urban life challenged conservative sensibilities in India, died on Thursday in Calcutta. He was 49.
Bikas Das/Associated Press
The cause was a heart attack, his family said. He had been treated for pancreatitis.
Mr. Ghosh’s films were known for their boldness, taking on complicated and sensitive subjects like divorce, widowhood, homosexuality and gender identity.
An unabashed cross-dresser, he cut a striking figure in Indian culture, frequently draped in lavish clothes, dangling earrings and eyeliner.
“I don’t consider myself a woman, and I don’t want to become a woman,” he told The Telegraph of India in 2010. He reveled in what he called his “gender fluidity — the fact that I am in between.”
Though principally associated with the Bengali film industry, Mr. Ghosh was known throughout India and beyond, earning both critical and commercial success and acclaim at film festivals in Asia, Europe and North America.
In 2007 his first English-language film, “The Last Lear,” had its premiere at the Toronto Film Festival and was later shown at the London Film Festival. It presents a confrontation between the artifices of theater and cinema as seen through the eyes of a Shakespearean stage actor, played by the Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan, who is brought out of retirement to act in his first, and perhaps only, film.
Mr. Ghosh admired women and explored their struggles and emotional lives in many of his 19 feature films. He chose to call himself “a womanist — not a feminist.”
In his second film, “Unishe April” (“The Nineteenth of April”), released in 1995, he depicted an ambitious dancer’s strained relationships with her husband and later with her grown-up daughter, a doctor. The film brought him his first of 12 National Film Awards in India, including for best director.
In “Chokher Bali” (“Sand in the Eye”), based on Rabindranath Tagore’s novel of the same name, Mr. Ghosh portrayed the condition of Hindu widows in conservative Bengal at the turn of the 20th century through the life of a young woman who has lost her husband and, without guilt, sexually desires her friend’s. The film stars Aishwarya Rai, a former Miss World whose screen presence and beauty have made her one of the most popular actresses in India. Many critics consider it Mr. Ghosh’s best film.
Mr. Ghosh also occasionally acted, notably playing gay characters in Kaushik Ganguly’s “Arekti Premer Golpo” (“Just Another Love Story,” 2011) and Sanjoy Nag’s “Memories in March” (2011).
His most recently released film, “Chitrangada” (2012), dealt with same-sex relationships and gender identity and featured Mr. Ghosh in the role of a gay man who undergoes a sex-change operation so that he and his partner can adopt a child. Many saw the film as semiautobiographical. It won a special jury award at the 60th National Film Awards on May 3.
Rituparno Ghosh was born on Aug. 31, 1963, in Calcutta and grew up there. His father, Sunil Ghosh, was a painter and documentary filmmaker.
Mr. Ghosh graduated from Jadavpur University in Calcutta, where he had majored in economics. He worked as an artist in an advertising agency before pursuing a film career, inspired in particular by the Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray, who also started out in advertising.
Mr. Ghosh gained wide notice with his first film, “Hirer Angti” (“The Diamond Ring,” 1994). A string of successful Bengali-language films followed.
Besides directing, Mr. Ghosh edited the popular Bengali film magazine Anandalok, held a senior position at a television channel and hosted celebrity talk shows.
His survivors include a brother, Indranil, who is a film production designer.
Mr. Ghosh finished filming a crime thriller, “Satyanweshi,” only two days before he died.
“Wrapped up the shoot,” he wrote in a Twitter message on Tuesday. The moment, he said, came “in the molten glow of the pensive falling afternoon.”