The camera is ready. The stage is set. Kaushik Ganguly, the director of Aarekti Premer Golpo, has sent a crew member to fetch his films heroine, Rituparno Ghosh, from the vanity van. Just wait and watch. Rituda will walk in like Rekha! Kaushik smiles.
Wearing a bun and a girlie fringe framing his face, Rituparno strolls into the sets of Aarekti Premer Golpo in soft, measured steps, with the poise and fragility of a shy woman being followed by a dozen male eyes. He is dressed as a young Chapal Bhaduri, the jatra artiste known for playing female roles. Hours before, he was parading the sets as Roop, the gay filmmaker and protagonist of Aarekti Premer Golpo, in jeans, kurta, kohl-lined eyes and manicured nails.
By his own admission, there is as much similarity as difference between Rituparno and Roop. Having started out as an advertising professional, Rituparno got a National Award and recognition as a filmmaker of consequence with Unishe April in 1994. Over the next 15 years, Rituparnos bold dress code and sexual ambiguity have drawn as much attention as his films. He has gone the whole hog — from flowing kurtas teamed with dupattas to jewellery, kajal and lipgloss — but none as bold a statement as walking the ramp in his androgynous avatar at the Kolkata Fashion Week in April this year. The new feminine figure, the androgynous attire and the painted face bespoke his increasing confidence in asserting his non-mainstream sexuality.
The journey of self-expression continues with Aarekti Premer Golpo — the film Rituparno has chosen to debut as an actor. As Roop, he is in a romantic relationship with the bisexual cinematographer Basu. In a film within the film, he becomes Chapal Bhaduri, the cross-dressing actor in a tempestuous love affair with his patron, Kumar.
Rituparno discussed his transformation with t2 in his vanity van parked on the outskirts of Santiniketan.
|Rituparno as Roop and (below) as Chapal Bhaduri. Pictures by Aranya Sen
What prompted you to become an actor with this film?
The subject of Aarekti Premer Golpo is such that I felt very few actors would believe in it and portray the character of Roop with honesty and sincerity. I believe in the subject and I have a sense of belonging to it. For me, Roop is an extremely believable identity. I didnt take up the film with the aim to come out. I dont need to prove a point to anyone. To me its important that a film on this issue is being made. I also felt that if played by any other actor, Roop would end up being caricaturish.
Is being Chapal Bhaduri tougher or easier than being Roop?
I am playing Chapal very cautiously... because I dont know much about his personal life and neither has Chapalda shed any light on his personal life. I would say my performance is imitative and less interpretative because I have Chapalda in front of my eyes. It isnt like Ben Kingsley playing Gandhi (in Gandhi) without ever seeing him. The Chapal I am playing is an imagination of Roop, the filmmaker, though it is based on facts.
As I see it, the character of Chapal has three phases. In the first he is a performing diva, the second is when he is leading the life of a recluse in Tarapith, and in the third he is a decrepit, bankrupt man… reduced to a domestic help in his boyfriends house. Chapaldas signature is his feminine voice, which he had perfected with practice. To use that feminine voice in the film or not is a really tough decision that we will have to make. Half of our unit thinks that we should use it, the other half doesnt agree.
Is there a point where the worlds of Chapal and Roop merge?
Yes.... You see, people who used to work in jatra belonged to a forbidden world. Jatra was never considered high art like Bangla theatre. The world of cinema, like jatra, too is a forbidden world, which is actually the world of licence... the licence that Roop and Basu (played by Indraneil Sengupta) take in their relationship. It is almost like a social licence, which applies to their personal relationship as well. And so, it becomes their erotic playground.
When Roop and Basu are away from their homes, they create their own little home. They spend time together, they become a family... just like a jatra team when its travelling together. This sense of family in a nomadic life existed in Chapal and Kumars relationship too, and I think the correlation is important. I can explain it in this way... here, you are using the form of performing arts to get a licence in your professional domain and then you start enjoying it in your personal life as well. Now it is an apparently liberated society and Roop has a sexual choice... or a sexual ambiguity. Chapal never had Roops courage. Women had entered jatra by the time Chapal mustered the courage.
Are you using props, like clothes and make-up, to heighten Chapals femininity?
No, I am wearing nothing that a woman wears. Look, I am wearing a phatua, a stole and a dhuti worn like a lungi. Chapal used to keep his hair long as he used to perform in jatra.... The androgyny comes through the way I am wearing these clothes, it comes through my body language.
What we now understand by a feminine man is very different from what people used to understand earlier. Isnt it amazing that even as late as in the Sixties-Seventies, when Suchitra-Supriya were ruling the world of cinema, you had Chapal Bhaduri, a man who dressed up like a woman on stage, and people still accepted him as a woman! There is a different level of confidence in Chapalda when he performs Sitala (the mythological role Bhaduri is famous for). The feminine persona, the sexual ambivalence is at the core of his confidence.
Is there a confusion in Roop and Chapal about androgyny and femininity?
I think the concept of unisex was not prevalent in those times. Roop can pass off unisex as androgyny. It is femininity in case of Chapal Bhaduri but androgyny in case of Roop. It is easier for Roop to flaunt his androgyny. He wears lipstick and French nails. He is flamboyant and he makes a statement. But it was not easy for Chapal to don a womans attire in public. Chapal does it by wearing a chandan tilak or a chain of tulsi beads. He cant wear ear studs, which Roop can. This is Chapals limit and he cant step out of it. It is a very delicate area for Chapal and for me too as an actor. Because I cant do up my eyes like I am doing in case of Roop.
Is Roop Rituparno Ghosh?
No, definitely not. Roop is younger than me by at least 10 years. But yes, when I am acting it seems as if I can see a young Rituparno in Roop. I can see Roop going through the same situations and making the same mistakes as I did when I was younger. I feel very protective towards Roop…. So, in a way, I am going through the same experiences again.
How are you differentiating Roop from Rituparno?
Roop is a lot more high brow, a lot more impatient than me. Roop has a confidence that is there in people who come from outside to shoot in Calcutta. I am modelling him after Mira Nair… people like Mira who love Calcutta but at the same time dont know how to handle a shoot in Calcutta.
Besides, I have been directing films from a very young age and as a result I am kind of a senior in the industry, whereas Roop has just started out. It is difficult for me to try to be very young and bubbly like Roop. At the same time, I am careful that Roop doesnt assume my seriousness.... This is the most difficult part for me.
I also had to be comfortable in the kind of clothes Roop wears. His outfits are completely different from what I wear. I also had to adopt his body language... I learnt to smoke and I lost weight in order to be Roop.
From your shots, Roops femininity seems to be very pronounced...
It is because Roop uses his femininity as a weapon... something which I would never do. Some gay people use their femininity to embarrass people. They use it for its shock value. Roop does that. I think Roop depends on props but he will grow up in the next few years, and that is why I sympathise with him. See, a woman wears her femininity. But an androgynous man, shifting between the male and the female, performs femininity. Roop is performing the essences of both the sexes and that has become his nature.
Dont you think you too have used a feminine dress code to draw attention?
No. My point is I will do what I want within my code of aesthetics. I have confidence in my aesthetics which is there in my films and which is appreciated. I think I have created a distinctive style for myself, though not consciously. This, too, has evolved. But I dont do this to feed peoples curiosity and neither do I have any liability to cater to the conventional image of a serious filmmaker. Some people tell me I shouldnt be dressing the way I do because I am a serious filmmaker!... And who said there is no third sex? It is for me to decide whether I will stand in the queue for men or for women or neither of the two. I think its important that we realise this now.
How much do you identify with Roop as a gay filmmaker?
As a filmmaker, I have never faced any gender discrimination but Roop does. Because as a feature filmmaker, I have enjoyed working in an orchestrated space whereas Roop, being a documentary filmmaker, gets into spaces that are not always congenial. Roop is victimised because he is a person with sexual ambiguity and he is making a documentary film on a person with sexual ambiguity (Chapal Bhaduri). In the film, people see it as gay bonding and so its unwelcome.
In my case, I always knew there was a lot of curiosity about me but there was never any restriction. I am not underprivileged as a gay filmmaker.
Didnt you have any apprehensions before taking up the role?
I was only apprehensive about my ability to perform the role. Because the whole film rests on my shoulders and people have come to expect a minimum standard of creative output from me. I was concerned about meeting that but the thought of how people would react seeing me in this role never came to me. It doesnt bother me.
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