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Interview Bengali

Konkona Sensharma on Rituparno Ghosh: He was always instilling confidence in people

On the Bengali auteur's fifth death anniversary, we spoke to one of his favourite actresses who, apart from playing important female characters in his films, also shared a deep personal connection with him.

Roushni Sarkar

Filmmaker Rituparno Ghosh’s untimely demise at the age of 50 on this day five years ago came as a blow to the Bengali film industry. He not only ushered in a new hope in Bengali films with rich content, but also presented a way to deal with sensitive subjects in films that was quite unprecedented till then.

His Unishe April (1994), Dahan (1997),  Utsab (2000), Chokher Bali (2003), Shob Choritro Kalponik (2009), Chitrangada: The Crowning Wish (2012) and other films brought forth unexplored corners of human psyche and relationships.

Often called one of the most courageous filmmakers, Ghosh had the ability to produce films that were visual treats and also could strike a cord with the audiences. Other than Aparna Sen and a few other hand-picked female directors of the country, perhaps, no other filmmaker has told stories of women, celebrated and explored femininity in the way Ghosh did in his films. After Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen and Ritwik Ghatak and other important directors from their time, Ghosh’s treatment of important issues took Bengali films to an international platform to be viewed with renewed excitement.

Ghosh not only received 12 National Film Awards, but he was a familiar name at various international film festivals, including Berlin International Film Festival, Locarno International Film Festival, Deauville Asian Film Festival and Chicago Film Festival.

On his fifth death anniversary (he died on 30 May 2013), Cinestaan.com spoke to one of his favourite actresses who, apart from playing important female characters in his films, also shared a deep personal connection with him. Konkona Sensharma reminisced that being associated with Ghosh was never a merely a professional equation, rather a wholesome experience.

“My relationship with Ritu Mama started much before I did Titli (2002), my first film with him. He was a family friend and very close to my mother. He would come over to our place. I would come back from school and we would chat, eat and laugh together. He sometimes helped me with Bengali grammar. My mother [Aparna Sen] and Ritu Mama had intense conversations and I would be a part of those too,” recalled Konkona.

Konkona Sensharma and Aparna Sen

“He first narrated the script of Sunglass (2013) which was then known as Chaitalir Choshma to my mother. They would often discuss about the script here and there or in a room where I would also be present and it was really fun. I was quite young then. Also, around the same time, I heard the script of Titli (2002). He often told me that he wanted to cast me in the film,” said the actress.

Eventually Ghosh made Titli (2002) after many years. By that time, he had made Unishe April (1994), Dahan (1997), Asukh (1998) and Utsab (2000). Konkona, too, had appeared for Subrata Sen’s Ek Je Achhe Kanya (2001), her first film as an adult artiste. “I remember him telling me, 'You better do this film (Titli) quickly; otherwise you will be too old for the role' as the character was of a young girl. Then of course, I did the film and it was an amazing experience for me. It was like a family holiday! Shooting with him was always a very relaxed, spontaneous and stress free experience for me. Haste khelte shooting hoe galo [we completed our shooting amidst laughter and frolic]. That’s how I remember it!” Konkona said.

Konkona’s second film with Ghosh was Dosar (2006). She was really excited to work with the talented director again, as by the time, he had added important films such as Shubho Mahurat (2003), Chokher Bali (2003), Raincoat (2004) and Antarmahal (2005) to his credit.

While talking about her experience of working in Dosar, the actress stated, “He was such a warm-hearted and generous person that he treated me like a collaborator on the sets even though I had lesser experience. We discussed the script and often he asked for my input on it as well. He gave so much respect and there was such a wonderful understanding between us that I felt comfortable and confident. I think you can get the best out of people when they feel valued. That was my feeling of working with him.

“And he never worked in a high-handed manner or a serious way. We were supposed to shoot for 18 days for the film but I didn’t even realise that we finished with the shooting in only 14 days! I love that film and I am so happy to be a part of it!” said Konkona.

The character of Kaberi Chatterjee in Dosar is also very close to Konkona’s heart. When asked to pick a favourite female character from Ghosh’s films, she said, “I am quite biased about the character I played in Dosar. In the film, he dealt with infidelity in such an interesting way. He showed the aftermath of infidelity. The way he chose to examine the characters and the marriage from a time period when everything had already fallen apart was something that was never done before. Also the delineation of the character of Kaberi, who is amazingly dignified, has pride and is so complex in her reactions, fascinated me a great deal. I think I would have loved the character, regardless of who played it; I just love how he sketched it.”

Dosar (2006)

According to Konkona, Ghosh had a great understanding of humanity, human behaviour and interactions. “You know he could bring out different qualities of life in a way that even if the audience do not have those specific experiences of the characters they can still identify with. He was able to look at all his films as human stories and give them that importance. His characters are never one dimensional. The female characters in his films, including the ones that I essayed, were strong characters. I don’t mean to say that they are full of strength from the beginning to the end neither they are merely present in the films for fulfilling any purpose or an agenda. All the characters have a lot of agency; they grow, they have their opinions which they also differ with in the course of the films,” elaborated Konkona.

Konkona also feels sad that Sunglass (2013), the last film she did with Ghosh was never released. “It was again such an amazing experience to do the film. I had been listening to the script since I was young and the film was finally being shot after so many years. The film was made in two versions, which is also, I think, an important culmination of that journey. I specially remember shooting a song sequence for the film, it was so much fun! It is a wild film and has such a beautiful story. Jaya Bachchan, R Madhavan and Tota Roy Chowdhury, a host of actors collaborated for the film. It is sad that we cannot share the film with the world!"

Konkona still misses Ghosh's warmth the most and the way he was at ease with people. She said, “He was such a well-read person yet he wore it very lightly. He always wanted people to grow alongside with him. Like, I remember, after I had done Titli, he had told me, 'Why don’t you be the art director of my next film!' He was always instilling confidence in people; he had that amazing trait in him.”