The actors’ director

Ever since her Bollywood debut in 1997,Aishwarya Rai-Bachchan has been a part of several major mainstream films.

Written by Sankhayan Ghosh | Published: May 31, 2013 3:24 am

Rituparno Ghosh,who died on Thursday,was among the few regional filmmakers to have made an impact in Bollywood,casting mainstream actors in strong character roles

Ever since her Bollywood debut in 1997,Aishwarya Rai-Bachchan has been a part of several major mainstream films. In most of them,she was the quintessential glamour and beauty queen. Then,in 2003,Rituparno Ghosh cast Rai-Bachchan in Chokher Bali as an emotionally manipulative widow,struggling with her sexual desires. Set in the 20th century,this not only showed her bare back and acting prowess,it made Ghosh’s name familiar in the Hindi film industry.

Having started out with Bengali films — Hirer Angti (1994),Unishe April (1994) and Dahan (1997) — Ghosh’s first tryst with Bollywood actors happened when he approached Anupam and Kirron Kher with the script of Bariwali (2000). Impressed by the script,Anupam decided to produce the film,while Kirron played the lead role. Kirron recalls Ghosh’s eye for detail while shooting for seven months in a house in rural Bengal. “He would stop in the middle of a shoot and ask me to pick up a safety pin and dig it into my teeth while watching TV. He was a great observer of human behaviour,which reflected in the way he used conversational chatting between the characters. Apart from that,he had a larger auteristic view over his projects,that can be seen in his music and other departments,” says Kirron,who bagged the National Award for Best Actress for this role.

Ghosh,known for his strong portrayal of women characters in Bengali cinema,extended similar sensibilities while working with Bollywood actors. He opted for actors who perhaps most filmmakers would consider unlikely choices for alternative cinema. For instance,Manisha Koirala in Khela (2008) and Bipasha Basu in Shob Charitro Kalponik (2008). Jackie Shroff,who portrayed the role of a zamindar in Antarmahal (2005),says,“I never got to ask him why he cast me in it,but my role remains one of the feathers in my cap.”

In Antarmahal,he cast the then one-film-old Soha Ali Khan and a relatively new Abhishek Bachchan as lead actors. “There are very few directors with whom as an actor you can completely allow yourself to be moulded and crafted. I trusted his ability to bring out the best performance in me. He would tell me where to look,where to place my hand and how to hold my sari. All I had to do was copy him,” says Khan.

Ghosh tried his hand at his first and only Hindi film Raincoat (2004),featuring Rai-Bachchan and Ajay Devgn. The Last Lear (2007) was perhaps his best casting coup. With Amitabh Bachchan,Preity Zinta,Arjun Rampal,Divya Dutta and Shifaali Shah,he worked with an interesting group of actors. “That was his genius. He knew which actor would suit the role. For this,he did not need to do a screen test,” says Dutta. The Last Lear came at an important juncture in her life and prepared her for her future endeavours. “Rituda would just place three to four cameras,explain the scene and ask me to perform. There were no rehearsals or instructions given.”

Ghosh was one of the few regional filmmakers who managed to make an impact in Bollywood. “He was the vanguard of good cinema,the link between Satyajit Ray and a new school,” says Khan.

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