The London Asian Film Festival (LAFF) 2014 began on 1st June with screenings taking place across the capital, showing the works of some of South Asia’s most renowned film makers.
Writer, director and actor Rituparno Ghosh was one of India’s most celebrated personalities and sadly passed away last year. His work in the Tollywood film industryrevolved around challenging the ideologies of particular social issues, which opened doors for him nationally and internationallywhere he began to work with big names such as Amitabh Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Kirron Kher. This year the LAFF will be screening a number of Ghosh’s films to mark the one year death anniversary of the acclaimed filmmaker.
‘Chitrangada – The Crowning Wish’ (2012) starring and directed by Ghosh, is a heartfelt and challenging story. Told through a series of conversations between Rudra Chatterji (Ghosh) and his therapist (Anjan Dutt), about Rudra’s dilemma’s as a homosexual, and his difficult relationship with his partner drug addict Partho (Jisshu Sengupta).
Rudra is a passionate dancer and choreographer who is putting on a show based on Tagore’s own tale of ‘Chitrangada’ – the princess of Manipura from the Hindu epic ‘Mahabharat’, whose father brings her up as a man, where she then falls in love with Arjun and asks the gods for a boon, to claim the desires that a woman has in order to attain him. Using Tagore’s story as a backdrop, the audiences quickly realise Rudra’s life has become some what parallel to Chitrangada’s. Though his demons maybe different to his plays main character, with a drug addict partner and parent’s who see his sexual status as an illness, Rudra is going through the same realities as the princess. The uncertainty about who he really is, living up to what he feels is expected of him, going through a sex change himself in order to keep his partner with him so they have a child, all make Rudra feel he is not what he is suppose to be. Who is he? What is his place in the lives of others? How can he be who he is and be accepted by those around him?
Ghosh manages to tell a humble yet powerful story, where he gives his audiences the space to develop their own opinions about the reality of homosexuality and the way society deals with it. With a cameo from Raima Sen and other brilliant performances where each character represents different questions that are often raised about the issue, Ghosh repeatedly conveys the same messages of identity gradually through the film.
Ghosh’s performance was outstanding, and though this was one of his few (and his last) performances as an actor, he managed to capture his audiences attention in an instant with his presence alone; even at times where no dialogue was being delivered. This film stands as a perfect example of Ghosh’s exceptional talent as a director, merging Rudra’s reality and his stage performance in-sync perfectly, to reflect on character and integrity to oneself.
However, ‘Chitrangada – The Crowning Wish’, will perhaps not appeal to everyone. With the relationship between two men being shown in close proximity on screen, as well as man being represented as somewhat more feminine, this project is all the more controversial. Despite this, the way that the film is unapologetic about the reality of homosexuality works in its favour, and the overall message that it transmits applies to everyone; “Just be who you wish to be. It’s your wish.”