Be what you want to be

Posted on: Monday, 3rd September 2012 | The Telegraph T2
Be what you want to be


Chitrangada: the crowning wish
Director: Rituparno Ghosh
Cast: Rituparno Ghosh, Jisshu Sengupta, Anjan Dutt, Dipankar De, Anasua Majumder, Raima Sen, Sanjoy Nag
Running time: 130 mins

Rituparno Ghosh’s new film Chitrangada: The Crowning Wish is a solo song that becomes a chorus by the time it trails off. Joining him in the journey of that song are our voices. And while our desires have nothing to do with the crowning wish in his film, they are awakened and welcomed in this sonorous celebration of self-discovery.

The film may stay in close-up — a man coming to terms with his sexuality — but in its scope of reaching out, it stretches as wide as it gets. Because the subject may be niche, the community it deals with a minority, but all it really wants to say is: Be what you want to be [or as billboards around town are saying, ‘aami amar moto’]. And that’s no queer message.

Chitrangada is not a gay love story. Not even just another love story. It’s like a distillation of events and thoughts, dreams and memories lurching around a beautiful mind. A mind which dared to fly beyond the body it resides in. And because all those layers keep peeling off simultaneously, juggling between time and space, real and surreal, the film can initially be a demanding experience. But never a distancing one.

Like in his last few films, Ghosh uses the drama-within-a-film format to tell his story and root it in mythic legend. If it was Nati Binodini in Abohomaan and Chapal Bhaduri inAarekti Premer Galpo (co-written by him), here it is Rabindranath’s Chitrangada.

Rudra aka Rudy (Ghosh himself) is a gay choreographer who is directing the dance drama for the stage. During its production he has a torrid affair with a junkie drummer named Partha (Jisshu Sengupta). They wish to settle down and have their own family. But with the Indian law not allowing two men to adopt a child, Rudra decides to change his sex.

The film cuts back and forth from that bed in hospital where Rudra is undergoing a series of surgeries to physically turn into a woman. He has this mysterious counsellor named Shubho (Anjan Dutt) visiting him all the time and his anxious parents (Dipankar De and Anasua Majumder) at home.

While Chitrangada the film keeps flitting in and out of its parallels with Chitrangada the play, it tosses the same question Tagore lobbed more than 75 years ago — why do you have to succumb to archetypes to belong? And if you do succumb, does it change the equation with the one you love? It’s less Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (as mentioned by Rituparno to t2 last week) and more Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi in that regard.

With a lot of the film celebrating the “pleasure in the pain” and the “pain in the pleasure”, Rudra is soaked in a lot of self-pity. As he and Partha keep telling each other, they “suffer” each other, rather than enjoy themselves. Their romance is not sightly, it’s almost symbiotic.

The film’s best moments are born out of the conversations between the parents — who are seen as victims too — and their Khokan. In Chitrangada’s most heart-wrenching scene, when the father and mother learn about their only son’s decision to undergo the gender reassignment operation, Ma looks at Baba and says: ‘Er maane ki go?

The question that will keep creeping into the minds of the audience, especially the Bengali audience, is whether Chitrangada is the real-life story of Rituparno Ghosh. Is he using the film to narrate what he went through? Are the choices Rudra makes in the film decisions he took in his life?

Well, Ghosh has said that Chitrangada is not autobiographical. But because he plays the protagonist, there is that whole intertextual layer which runs throughout the reels and does have a huge impact on the reading of the film. It’s like watching Sudha Chandran playing Mayuri.

The lines get further blurred as Ghosh plays Rudra by just being himself. Like Woody Allen is always himself (“It’s the only thing I can do. I’m not an actor. I can’t play Chekhov, I can’t play Shakespeare or Strindberg. I can do that thing that I do).” Directing himself for the first time, Ghosh does that thing he does and does it well enough for you to root for his freedom.

Jisshu’s the bravest performance of the film. He is portrayed as this unpleasant parasitic being whose expression of love is purely physical. His all-important change of heart is a tad abrupt in the script but he executes it with the right kind of disdain.

And in that shadowy role of Shubho, who only gets to react to Rudra, Anjan Dutt is top-notch. That his identity is explained in the end does disservice to Dutt’s perfectly punctuated performance. But you will go back with Anasua Majumder’s turn as the mother, a mother who like all mothers simply wants her son to be happy.

That Chitrangada manages to exist in so many worlds and yet create its own world is a tribute to the cinematography of Avik Mukhopadhyay. The man who can turn a hospital room into a theatre stage and a theatre stage into a hospital room at will, just through lighting.

The music by Debojyoti Mishra soars when the Rabindrasangeet tracks fade in (Kaushiki’s Bodhu kon alo laglo is mesmerising); otherwise the background score underlines a little too much.

While it’s impossible to fathom how much of that hop, skip and jump was there in the script, editor Arghyakamal Mitra puts it all together quite masterfully.

The father asks: ‘Chhele chheler moto hobe, eta jed-er ki achhe?’ The mother replies:‘Shawbhaber- toh ekta ichhe achhe.’ That desire, born out of nature and battling the norms, makes Chitrangada so desirable.


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