The Passing of Rituparno Ghosh


I just got some bad news from Calcutta. Noted filmmaker Rituparno Ghosh suddenly died this morning. He was 49.

In some ways, Ghosh reminded us of Fassbinder. In their separate social contexts and possibilities, they both challenged the “normal” society and the larger limitations of humanity. Both had a “libertine” lifestyle. Both probably died of strange, out-of-the-ordinary reasons — prematurely.

Both Fassbinder and Ghosh were exceptionally talented and extremely hard-working. Both cut a new genre of powerful, artistic movies.

Art critic, film professor Dilip Basu at University of California at Santa Cruz wrote me: “He was an idealist/realist, and an iconoclast.”

Prof. Basu is right. Ghosh carried forward the bright torch of Bengali liberal intelligentsia, a torch passed on by the likes of Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak, Mrinal Sen, Tapan Sinha and more recently, Buddhadev Dasgupta, Aparna Sen and Gautam Ghose. All these noted movie makers, Ray and Ghatak being the two globally-famous names, showed us how progressive thoughts and anti-status-quo intellectualism and politics can thrive — even in an extremely conservative and patriarchal society. Yes, they can survive an onslaught of MTV, Beyoncé, Spielberg, Titanic and Jolie.

Or, in the Indian context, Amitabh Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai and Amir Khan.

Fassbinder (1945-1982)
Fassbinder (1945-1982)

The Bengali poets, artists, musicians and intellectuals have created an indelible path of free and futuristic thinking. Indian filmmakers and playwrights such as Ray, Ghatak and Ghosh as well as Badal Sarkar, Shyam Benegal, Girish Kasaravalli, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, M. S. Sathyu and Ketan Mehta vigorously put up a strong resistance against the quicksand kitsch of Bollywood. Millions of Indians and Bengalis are proud they have refused to be a part of the Bollywood imbecility. They drew inspiration from the vibrant, alternative, pro-real-life, anti-fantasy genre. They needed the inspiration now more urgently than ever before.

Ghosh’s sudden, untimely departure is thus truly difficult to grasp today.

Professor Basu wrote me: “A Bollywood friend told me once, ‘If you are looking for real innovation, you will not find it here as much as in Kolkata [Calcutta]. Where is a Rituparna Ghosh in Mumbai?'” For those who do not know, Bollywood movies are all made in Mumbai (previously Bombay — thus the name Bollywood: Bombay-Hollywood).

There was never a Satyajit Ray or Ritwik Ghatak in Mumbai Bollywood. There was never a Rituparno Ghosh or Aparna Sen in Bollywood Mumbai either. Especially if you think about the exquisite art Rituparno Ghosh held in his frames.

Many smiled at him. Many more laughed.
Many smiled at him. Many more laughed.

Especially, Ghosh was indeed an iconoclast. For India’s extreme, and often violent male chauvinistic society, his coming out as a gay/transgender was itself a revolutionary act. Some say, his sexual orientation and fiercely individualistic lifestyle made him a lonely man.

A Calcutta critic Yajnaseni Chakraborty wrote today: “…the jibes at the way he dressed and talked, the personal attacks on his films and those he acted in, the insensitivity of a society he was trying to change and educate, the seeming disloyalty of those he considered friends, and his inability to really, truly, trust anybody. Beneath his nonchalant facade, the hurt and the loneliness dug deep.”

I was not so much for his almost exhibitionist, somewhat bizarre lifestyle. In fact, as a movie enthusiast, I was not even one of his biggest fans. I never liked the way he filmed Tagore’s Chokher Bali (Eyesore) and cast Bollywood queen Aishwarya Rai as the lead, feminist character (Bollywood is polar opposite to women’s equality, in case you didn’t notice; and the Bachchan-Rai family has been one of the lead torchbearers of this anti-feminism street swear). I strongly disliked the way Ghosh distorted Tarashankar Banerjee’s novel Antar Mahal (Heart Quarters). I always thought Rituparno, in a zeal to break down any social norms, customs and traditions, took it too far too quickly, and did not do justice either to the original authors or to the core messages they wanted to pass on to us. His cinematography took over his body of work, not only from a film-language point of view, but also from a social message point of view. His much-pronounced individualism thus unfortunately alienated me from some of his otherwise memorable creations.

Indian Rituparno Ghosh, at the end, perhaps gave in to Western Ayn Rand’ism. Or, perhaps, to Fassbinder’ism.

But I still want to remember him as one of our greatest artists and filmmakers; Ghosh brought the Bengali-Indian audience back to Bengali-Indian cinema from kitschy-glitzy-variety Bollywood. I want to remember his movie Dahan (Crossfire), where Ghosh took on the rampant street violence on women in India as well as the cowardice of Bengali middle class failing to prevent it. He took it head-on. I want to remember how he used our beloved Tagore singer Suchitra Mitra as a major actress on the movie and brought the best out of her. I would want to remember Chokher Bali, not for the film interpretation as much, but for the celestial music Ghosh’s music director Debojyoti Mishra created for the movie. I would close my eyes and just listen to the music for its entire two hours — non-stop.

Mastery in art. Captured in the frame.
Mastery in art. Captured in the frame.

Again, I was not a major fan of Rituparno Ghosh the filmmaker. But even without blinking for once, I would rank him as one of the most important artists — a cultural icon — of our time, who defied kitsch-for-entertainment, and had opted for intelligence and humanism — the essence of Bengali-Indian identity.

Or, rather, the way I have always considered our Bengali-Indian identity. Or, for that matter, my present Bengali-Indian-American identity.

Rituparno Ghosh and his art are going to be dearly missed.

Sadly Writing,


Brooklyn, New York


Everybody knows, Nobody cares. Nobody dares. Nothing changes.
Dahan by Rituparna Ghosh. Everybody knows, Nobody cares. Nobody dares. Nothing changes.

India’s Mega-Billion Cricket Scandal

Dhoni Bindu Dara
Wife of India’s cricket captain often seen with a lead bookie cum Bollywood star

Two years ago, I wrote that India and Pakistan had fixed their world cup cricket match — for billions of dollars through bookies and bribes.

Nobody paid any attention to what I had to say.

Now, a new episode of India’s cricket scandal got exposed during the IPL tournament, and some small investigation got some small cricketers and Bollywood stars arrested for spot fixing. And even though we all know how big cricketers and big Bollywood stars are involved in this mega-billion-dollar betting industry, and how corporate India, politicians and media and law enforcement will soon hush it all up, especially well before the 2014 national elections — to save and protect the ruling class and their lynchpins, we need to revisit how the game of cricket that we had once loved so much has now become a matter of mafia, muscle and money — disgracing our souls and shaming our identities one more time.

Center of cricket power and conflict of interest
Center of power and conflict of interest: board chairman

I thought I should bring back the article I wrote two years ago on a very scandalous episode involving the people in power — both in India and Pakistan. Now, with the meteoric rise of the IPL tournament, the scandal has become global and all the participating countries with their players, officials and politicians have now become suspects.

Would an international low enforcement body investigate this international crime?

You decide.

Sincerely Writing,


Brooklyn, New York


Friday, April 1, 2011

India-Pakistan World Cup Cricket: Fixed?

India-Pakistan World Cup semifinal match: fixed?
FYI. (Please make a note that I’m not doing it because I’m anti-India, anti-Pakistan, or anti-anything. I’m only asking people to think calmly and objectively about the scandals and lies that cheat us and our children; there’s NO difference when it comes to India, Pakistan or any other big power.)
It deeply troubles me, and keeps me awake. Here’s my two cents on this. I hope you do something about it.
Were a billion-plus people (and especially children and youth) cheated by the people in power and their cronies on the field? Was there small or big-time fixing, group politics, gambling, spot-fixing, fancy-fixing, political pressure, personal rewards, threats or intimidation to sway the game and the overall outcome of 2011 World Cup Cricket?
Can we investigate, and prove or disprove the allegations?
I’ve played a lot of cricket in my years, and always kept in touch with it. Here’s my “evidence” to bring a prima facie case with an allegation that the match could well have been fixed.
(1) Pakistan strike bowler Umar Gul’s huge run giveaways in the first few overs; and yet, captain Shahid Afridi gave him the ball in the final overs when he gave away many more runs to give India a respectable total (completely unnecessary: Abdul Razzak who only bowled a couple of overs, was not given the ball, and he looked grim).
And was it true that Afridi refused the final bowling power play, making it even easier for India? (Personally, I’d want to believe that he was a helpless onlooker of group pressure and politics.)
(2) Pathetically slow batting by Pakistan batsmen: it was a pain sitting through watching it (especially by aggressive batsmen like Misbah and Younis), yielding an impossible asking run rate (it went up from 4 or 5 per over in the beginning of their innings to almost 9 in the middle of the innings; and India’s bowling was truly below-average). The way some of the Pak batsmen threw their wickets away was horrible: couldn’t possibly happen in a normal scenario.
(3) Pakistan players’ body language was very suspicious: especially of Umar Gul, Kamran Akmal and Younis Khan; they looked face stiff even from the start of the game. Why?
(4) Pakistan constantly excluded star bowler Shoaib Akhtar even in the India match (who announced retirement after World Cup, expressing “disgust” the way he’s been treated). Maybe, he knew something? Can we ask him?
(5) India played three ordinary pace bowlers especially Munaf and Nehra who bowled miserably; yet, star Pakistani batsmen would not make strokeplays against them.
(6) Pakistani wicketkeeper and other Pak players’ gestures after dropping “Man of the Match” (?) Sachin four or five times were telling (and this wicket keeper is notoriously unscrupulous, many say). Come on, was it Sachin’s Man-of-the-Match game? Why not young Riaz?
(7) Pakistan’s recent political troubles are massive and it extremely needed to mend ties with India by any means; beating India in India would not go well with that fence-mending, and India would also perhaps be thrown in a Shiv Sena type turmoil (SS had already warned of dire consequences of a Pakistan win). ICC or BCCI would not want something that would cut into their profits and reputation (or whatever is left of the reputation). India govt., for that matter, needed something big for a diversion: India’s economic situation is scary, and opposition is gaining ground.The April 3 New York Times article said Sonia Gandhi got what she asked for: diversion from major IPL, Commonwealth and 2G scandals that rocked India.
(8) Pakistani minister’s prior warning to players “not to fix” the India match was ominous. Maybe, it’s time to have an interview with him?
(9) Pakistan’s recent-past wicketkeeper Zulkarnain Haider’s new allegations (and some other individuals’ action including the Lahore court petition to investigate fixing) that the match was set up must be followed on.
All conjectures? Could be. But it’s a question of thinking critically, and finding circumstantial evidence.
I have no doubt that you’d understand the gravity of the situation.
I’d be very happy if after investigation (a real one), it turns out to be all clean.
(Then we’ll talk about the billion-dollar bookies in IPL and T-20, but we’ll save it for now).
Thanks for listening.
Partha Banerjee
Brooklyn, New York

April 1, 2011

(Revised on April 4)

How to Stop the Rape Epidemic in India — Part 4: Your Ideas

In this segment, I’m going to include some of the feedback I’ve received from friends and readers — some of them activists working on the ground both in India and here in the U.S. I’m also including my anecdotal comments side by side to make it a meaningful conversation. I hope I get more ideas and suggestions from you in the coming days.

I’m not including names of the writers here only because I have not asked for their permission to use their thoughts they sent to my Facebook page. I don’t think it matters who wrote which comment: all of them are thoughtful. I want to keep writing about an all-inclusive, comprehensive set of proactive and reactive measures to stop this epidemic.

Body to buy? Who buys? Who sells? Who profits?
Body to buy? Who buys? Who sells? Who profits?

Friend #1 wrote:

Commodification of women has to stop and artists, poets, advertisers, movie makers need to become educators in a way, exerting their power to demonstrate responsibility in the portrayal of women, children, men’s bodies as commodities on one hand whereas the right positive education through removing and rectifying stereotyping in text books (we had started some of that work ) from childhood and mindful education to adolescents esp. boys to understand the fragility of women’s bodies and the natural difference of creation between men and women – posters, banners,punishment etc can go on – but to bring change our society needs to inculcate care as against violence -there are no shortcuts I’m afraid but the task though large is very much do-able.

She continued:

In fact much of the doings of the women’s movement in the years gone by are responsible for creating this generation of young protesters who are not afraid to voice themselves and claim the streets

Friend #2 wrote:

Partha- I am answering your question above on how to stop violence against women- we need to institutionalize the empowerment of women everywhere. When society as a whole frowns upon it rather than condones it, we will see it diminish.

She wrote again:

Society in India has institutionalized the abuse and marginalization of women there, Partha, and violence against women is no new thing- it has been with us throughout all of written history. We need to change the rules as well as follow the advice that others have given here.

She said:

Politically and especially ECONOMICALLY empower women- then you will see things change. Let’s start economically empowering women by acknowledging that a woman’s very real job of being a mother and running a household is not ‘private’ work that is worthy of no economic compensation. It is, as Oprah has stated many times, the most important job on earth, and in a world that depends on the monetary system for survival, it is a job that is deserving of dignified pay. We need to start acknowledging that ‘women’s work’ is real work and that it should no longer pay slave wages. Then, maybe the men of the world will stop treating us as slaves.

Where women are not afraid claiming their dignity and rights. There is no fear.
Where women are not afraid claiming their dignity and rights. There is no fear.

Friend #1 wrote here:

Let us try to break out of the paradigm of weighing everything through economic value , the woman’s role in society can never ever be compensated – let us think of happiness as the paradigm to be achieved as an example.

Let women not have to measure upto the man’s yardstick but reverse the paradigm – tilt the scales for a while before equalizing.

Friend #3 sent her thoughts:

Making short video clips of the different aspects of disrespect and its implication and reaching them out to the mass through MMS, television, community radio and also through NGO workers who has penetration in remote rural areas can be an option. Also I feel on personal level there should be more dialogue between the have and havenots. Lack of communication creates indifference and carelessness.

Friend #4 sent in his comments:

Start questioning and acting to change the cultural aspects that couches patriarchy at home. Second (if you allow) we need to take up community watch – ensure the beat cops/other cops/bureaucracy works by supporting those who need… this needs a strong community togetherness…

Finally, Friend #5 added in:

Passing and enforcing laws to protect girls and women is an important step. But the fact is education and culture must be addressed, worldwide, regarding the status of children, girls in particular and women to make the deeper and long-term change we all (writing here) desperately want. Politics, law and policy making are more immediate and central to more fundamental change. in my opinion.

In relation to some of the comments above demanding cultural shift in attitude toward women, I quote these lines from an American TV sitcom The Honeymooners (alas, U.S. media do not make such blue-collar, real-life shows anymore. Alice is the homemaker in the middle of the picture above. Her husband Ralph is the big man. He is a blue-collar worker.)

Alice: Let me tell you something. There’s an old, old saying Ralph. “Man works from sun to sun, but woman’s work is never done.”

Ralph: (In a snooty voice) Good gosh!

Alice: You men just think you own this planet.

Ralph: Yeah but you women get your revenge. You marry us.

[From: A Woman’s Work Is Never Done, The Honeymooners, Season 5, Episode 4.]

(Please continue to Part 5 — last segment. Thank you.)

Yes, they are leaders. Unknown, unsung. But true leaders. Let's follow their leadership.
Yes, they are leaders. Unknown, unsung. But true leaders. Let’s follow their leadership.