Kathmandu: After ‘Arekti premer golpo’ (Just another love story) and ‘Memories in March’, both of which have strong gay protagonists and Rituparno Ghosh stepping out in front of the camera, the Bengali film director has now completed shooting his first "queer" film, which is also a metaphor for his own sexual transformation.
The 47-year-old was in Kathmandu recently to talk about his life, films and the recent "queer shift" in career at "Count me IN", a three-day conference by New Delhi-based rights organisation Crea to raise awareness about the ongoing violence against the marginalised: differently abled women, sex workers, gays, lesbians and transgenders.
The "significant shift" in Rituparno`s life - when he began publicly appearing in a woman`s persona - had "a lot" to do with the passing away of his mother.
"Queers are supposed to be irresponsible to their families," he told a spellbound audience. "People think their parents don`t love them. My world centred around my parents."
His wish not to see them suffer social ridicule held him back from revealing his sexual identity.
After his mother`s death, the other factor that gave him the courage to come out of the closet was Singur, the town in West Bengal`s Hooghly district where people`s protests at the taking over of their land to build the Tata Group`s Nano car factory led to violence, deaths and ultimately, the withdrawal of the factory.
"I was editing a publication and my first edit was on Singur," he said. "It gave me a sense of courage. I thought if I can write against an establishment... it opened the door for other avenues of courage."
Despite his celebrity status - or perhaps because of it - the emergence was not painless for the eight-times National Film Award winner.
He mentioned a popular talk show on Bengali television in which the host constantly mocked him by caricaturing him. Rituparno replied by inviting the host to his own talk show.
"I told him, when you imitate PC Sorcar or Mithun Chakrabarty, it`s personal. But when you imitate me (as a transgender), you caricature a whole community. I also told him, please mention in future then that this is a caricature of Rituparno Ghosh and nobody else."
The two biggest artistic and cultural influences on him came from Rabindranath Tagore, who has been an abiding influence on all Bengalis and whose transitions from the male into the female voice have never struck a discordant note, and Satyajit Ray.
"If somebody had influenced me to become a filmmaker, it was Ray," he said. "Ray set a masculine prototype for film directors. People were proud of his height and his English. People (like me) who wear danglers and kajol to parties (were regarded) as an insult to Ray."
Rituparno says his 2000 film ‘Bariwali’ (The landlady) starring Kiran Kher, introduced the first androgynous character in his films - that of a young male servant, who looked like a girl and had girlish mannerisms.
In 2010, Kolkata was taken by storm when ‘Arekti premer golpo’ directed by Kaushik Ganguly released, smiting the middle-class bhadralok culture.
In it, Rituparno plays a transgender filmmaker who seeks to make a documentary on Chapal Bhaduri, an old stage actor known for playing female roles at a time the theatre was forbidden to women. He plays Bhaduri as well.
The same year, Rituparno continued his acting spree amidst warnings that he was being typecast.
In ‘Memories in March’, directed by Sanjoy Nag, he plays a gay ad filmmaker.
Now in ‘Chitrangada’, for which he says shooting was completed this month, he will be both behind and in front of the camera.
The film is based on a story from the Mahabharat, which became the subject of Tagore`s dance drama ‘Chitrangada’.
Chitrangada was a princess whose dynasty had received a divine blessing that only princes would be born to the queens. So the princess was brought up as a man, learning the art of warfare and governance.
But she became aware of her suppressed sexuality when she saw Arjun and sought to become a beautiful woman with feminine wiles who could captivate him.
In his film, ‘Chitrangada: The crowning wish’, Rituparno plays Rudra Chatterjee, a choreographer who is staging the dance drama on the occasion of Tagore`s 150th birth anniversary.
"Parents inflict their wishes on him," he develops the plot. "He wants to be a dancer but they want to send him to an engineering college. The he falls in love with a junkie drummer and wants to restore his suppressed femininity."
What will be the Bengali bhadralok`s reaction to the new film?
"Kolkata can`t ignore me," he shrugs. "Nor can it accept me completely."