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The unsung heroines: Six supporting characters from Rituparno Ghosh’s films

Roopa Ganguly, Shefali Shah, Mamata Shankar, Sudipta Chakraborty, Chitra Sen and Sohag Sen have played these characters

Agnivo Niyogi Calcutta Published 30.05.23, 04:44 PM
(L-R) Chitra Sen and Debasree Roy in Unishe April; Shefali Shah in The Last Lear

(L-R) Chitra Sen and Debasree Roy in Unishe April; Shefali Shah in The Last Lear Facebook, Twitter

The women in Rituparno Ghosh’s films are always a force to reckon with, irrespective of the length of the roles. On the master filmmaker’s tenth death anniversary, we look back at six supporting characters who are vital pieces in the narrative arc and have moved us with their aspirations, struggles, care and quiet strength.

Bela / Boya in Unishe April (1994)


Played by Chitra Sen, this character doesn’t have much screen time but is a pillar of strength for the film’s protagonist Mithu (Debasree Roy), who calls her Boya. That she watches over the young girl like a guardian angel is established in the sequence when Mithu is alone in a room after her father’s death, and Boya comes over and gives her a warm hug. When Mithu begins to miss her mother — a renowned and busy dancer, played by Aparna Sen — it is Boya who fills the gap with her attention and care. She is Mithu’s constant companion and confidante, and the only person in the Gupta household, other than Mithu, who remembers the significance of the date, April 19.

Romita’s sister-in-law in Dahan (1997)

Although her name is never mentioned, protagonist Romita’s (Rituparna Sengupta) sister-in-law in Dahan is no less significant a character. Hers is a shoulder Romita can lean on in times of emotional turmoil. Played by Mamata Shankar, she’s the stereotypical elder daughter-in-law in a Bengali household. She nurses Romita back to normalcy after her traumatic experience of sexual assault and is the only person in the Chowdhury family whom Romita can bare her soul to.

Malati in Bariwali (2000)

Sudipta Chakraborty’s performance as housemaid Malati fetched her the National Award for Best Supporting Actress. Malati is an integral part of Banalata’s (Kirron Kher) household, always mindful of the needs of the elderly landlady. Malati is unassuming and honest. When an opportunity comes for Banalata to feature in a film, the cinephile Malati coaxes her to take it. And Malati is there to offer emotional support when Banalata discovers that her part in the film has been chopped off at the editing table.

Mahamaya in Antarmahal (2005)

In this period piece set in times when women were confined to the inner chambers of a residence, Roopa Ganguly plays Mahamaya, a woman who dazzles with her beauty and resilience as much as her vulnerability. She is zamindar Bhubaneswar Chowdhury’s (Jackie Shroff) first wife, and is desperate to woo her husband away from his younger wife Jashomati (Soha Ali Khan). A shrewd observer of human nature, Mahamaya knows she needs to exert her allure over men to hold her place in a dynamic where the odds are stacked up against her. At the same time, she feels what Jashomati is going through.

Vandana in The Last Lear (2007)

Vandana, played by Shefali Shah, is a retired theatre actress married to Harish Mishra (Amitabh Bachchan), a Shakespearean theatre actor. She takes care of Harish after he meets with a near-fatal injury during a film shoot in the hills. When Harish’s co-star Shabnam (Preity Zinta) comes to pay him a visit on Diwali, the premiere night of their film, Vandana treats her with spite, blaming the film crew for Harish’s plight. However, during the course of the night, they bond over a cup of tea as the women bare their souls to each other and discover what they have in common.

Priyobala aka Nondor Ma in Shob Charitro Kalponik (2009)

Sohag Sen slipped into the shoes of Priyobala, referred to as Nondor Ma, an elderly woman who takes care of the Mitra family. She is a refugee from erstwhile East Bengal, who often recounts tales of her past life. Indraneel (Prosenjit Chatterjee) weaves those stories together to compose a biographical poem on Nondor Ma. When Indraneel and Radhika’s (Bipasha Basu) marriage starts to fall apart, and the couple begin to get into fights, Priyobala intervenes to talk sense into them. She is there for Radhika when she grieves Indraneel’s death.

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