Edward Buncombe intervenes saying that cinema as an institution is rooted in society, so one should be aware of cinema's effects on society and society's impact on cinema and a film's effect on other films vis-…-vis ideology, economics and industrial logic. He says, before venturing into auteur studies one should keep in mind the finer codes originating in and outside of a film (Buscombe, 1981). In a similar vein, John Caughie notes "The activity of the critical spectator...is directed...towards... investigating the way in which the directorial sub code operates in the film, how it interacts with, modifies and is modified by the other codes and sub codes which also operate" (Caughie, 1981). Janet Staiger in her turn articulates the meaning of auteur by phrasing it as 'authorship-assite- of -discourse-approach.' (2003, 47) She further argues that the author functions through a "repetitive citation of a performative statement of 'authoring choice'. (2003, 51) So, according to her, 'it is this authoring choice' that produces the author.
Now before considering Rituparno Ghosh as an auteur it is important to locate him in a larger matrix. Ghosh started his film making career in the early 1990s. Prior to his emergence Buddhadeb Dasgupta, Gautam Ghose, Aparna Sen et al were considered to be the torch bearers of the 'New Bengali Cinema' (Bose, 1998). According to Kironmoy Raha, Ajoy K. Bose and Yves Thoraval, these new directors came into being with the New Wave movement and contributed to the somewhat stagnated 'art' quotient of Bengali cinema by constantly harking back to the aesthetics of the holy trinity of Bengali cinema: Ray, Sen and Ghatak (Raha, 1991; Bose, 1998; Thoraval, 2000). Spandan Bhattacharya has focused on the film makers of the parallel cinema of the 1990s whose narratives invested in reviving the 'lost glory' and 'good taste' of an earlier art cinema tradition, and were marked by the quality of 'pastness' both in terms of form and content and were oriented to cater to the erudite intelligentsia and the middleclass folk in general. Ghosh, in Bhattacharya's opinion, fits into this group of directors while maintaining his distinct characteristics, even as his cinema exemplifies the very nature of the 'post liberalization Bengali 'Parallel' Cinema' (2011) A similar claim had been earlier made by Tapas Ganguly in a 1997 article where he considered Rituparno Ghosh as one of the 'inheritors' of the Dasgupta-Sen-Ghosh legacy (1997). By critically engaging with these positions, I would like to see the ways that further distinguish Ghosh from his contemporary colleagues. Film journalist Shantanu Chakraborty observes that Rituparno Ghosh as a film director is a product of the high moment of televisuality.1According to him the emphasis on interiority in Ghosh's films is a result of his awareness of the taste of his audience who are quite attached to televisual aesthetics. This, of course, should not be the only yardstick of differentiation.
Again to go by the industrial logic, the emergence of big corporate production companies like Shree Venkatesh Films and their recent interest in 'art house' cinema and encounter with directors like Rituparno Ghosh mark a major change in Ghosh's own career as a film maker as well as in the power dynamics of the industry. For example with Ghosh's film Chokher Bali (A Passion Play, 2003), Shree Venkatesh Films started producing 'parallel' Bengali films besides their staple popular films. They chose to produce Ghosh's film because he was already a well known, national award winning director who earned fame both at home and abroad and had the ability to rope in Bollywood superstars like Aishwarya Rai. After more than a decade of film making Rituparno Ghosh is considered the 'most powerful director' of Tollywood (Nag, 2008: 8).
Films of Rituporno Ghosh
A kind of lived, daily spaces are common in Unishe April, Dahan (Crossfire, 1997), Asukh, Bariwali (The Lady of the House, 2000) , Utsab (The Festival, 2000) and Titli (The First Monsoon Day, 2001). In fact this kind of interior design, objects and their relation with the protagonists became a recognizable part of the cinematic style of the early films of Rituparno Ghosh. In a review of Asukh, Shoma A Chatterjee mentioned the director's aesthetic investment in restraining the glamour quotient of the look of the film and maintaining the economy of expression through minimal decoration. (1999)
Veteran film society activist and drama critic Samik Bandyopadhyay underlines in his review of Rituparno Ghosh's 1998 film Asukh (Malaise) that Ghosh's films in general allow the audience to contemplate on their own class position and idiosyncrasies by restricting the film narratives only to relationships among different members of the family. According to him the uniqueness of his Ghosh's films lies in his portrayal of the familial relationships.
In fact, man as a social being tends to escape from his familial responsibilities in the pretext of the broader social history or the static position of the tradition that lie beyond the ambit of the family. When Rituparno highlights images of hesitations, conflicts, undulations, crisis, decay in different familial relationships he seeks to signpost the resolution of this crisis within the limits of these relationships too. Cinephile to the core, film-blogger Kaustav Bakshi rates the film Unishe April (April the 19th, 1994) above other films he remembers from his childhood because the film "... did not just tell the story of a temperamental doctor and her mother, but the story we write ourselves everyday through our actions. "For him, "What made Unishe April a fresh breath of air is Rituparno's attention to details which is the hallmark of all his films." (Bakshi, 2008). Film critic and journalist Shoma A. Chatterjee appreciates in Ghosh's early films the specific interior spaces of the middleclass household mapped, configured and reconfigured by the protagonists through their relationship and associations with objects like a perfume bottle, utensils and other everyday objects.3
Ghosh undoubtedly has a special resonance for Bengali audiences. When he arrived as a filmmaker in the 1990s, Bengali cinema was at its lowest ebb. The industry was cash-strapped, films were being made on shoestring budgets and were technically low, mostly formula fare. Ghosh made an impact with good scripts, nuanced storytelling, and a flair for capturing human emotions.