The queer lens of Rituparno Ghosh

Gender and art

LGBT films should not be viewed as activist films alone. In fact many aren’t. Rituparno Ghosh’s films were extremely audience-centric. In fact, he never considered himself an activist, but rather an artist,” says Rohit K Dasgupta, lecturer at University of Southampton, and also a close associate of the late Ghosh.

If we go beyond Hindi cinema, Ghosh’s film have gained the confidence of the queer community. Dasgupta, who works in the area of representation of queer culture in India, explains that while Ghosh’s films were not intended to be queer, he was often criticised by the community (in Bengal), except after Chitrangada (a story about same-sex couple not being allowed to adopt children and also choosing one’s own gender) was released.

It was only after that, that Ghosh was accepted by queer activists and his films started being screened at various queer film festivals across the globe.

Dasgupta conveys that queer is not a community of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) people, it is someone who challenges the heterosexual power and status quo.

Being a close associate of Ghosh, who has often critically examined his films before they are sent for distribution, Shohini Ghosh, a filmmaker and professor at AJK Jamia Millia Islamia says, “I saw a different Chitrangada, and the audience saw a different one. There were many cuts made to that film.”

Sangeeta Dutta who has worked as an associate director with Ghosh in many of his films like Anatarmahal and also been a part of Censor Board in India (in the 90s) and United Kingdom says, “There is always a danger in passing content-specific films. Some of them seem to be pornographic, if it’s not treated with subtlety.”

Dutta agrees that Ghosh’s films were “intelligent” and not explicit same-sex relationships. She says even though they were treated like drawing room conversations (“Like a son telling his father that he wants to change his gender”), it could still unsettle the audience.

She agrees that cinema is an art form, and an artist’s visualisation is integral, but “when you’re battling the Censor Board, the producer and you want to tell your own story, there has to be an intelligent way through which you can manoeuvre through these”.

“I don’t agree that it’s called curbing of visualisation. We can see much more on the Indian screen today as compared to what we saw 10 years ago,” she adds.

According to Dasgupta, who himself belongs to the queer community, several times there is a lot of “misgendering” that happens. “Even films like Madhur Bhandarkar’s Page 3 and Traffic Signal, despite having queer characters, did not go beyond a certain limit. Bobby Darling’s character in Kyaa Kool Hain Hum and the constant misgendering was equally painful to watch,” he says.

 He elucidates how Ghosh’s films are queer from the very outset. He explores different themes in various films — heterosexual relationships like marital rape in Dahan; incestuous relationships in Utsab; female sexuality in Bariwali and Chokher Bali and so on.

“Queer aesthetics are explored through the way characters such as Behari in Chokher Bali and the young sculptor played by Abhishek Bachchan in Antarmahal are epresented,” Dasgupta tells Metrolife.

In Hindi cinema, while Kal Ho Na Ho and Dostana can be credited for bringing some queer content in the public domain, it still relies on the ‘inevitability of heterosexuality' according to Dasgupta.

He adds that less mainstream films such as Onir’s My brother Nikhil and I Am, and Ghosh’s films, have been instrumental in portraying more nuanced and positive queer characters.

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