Rituparno Ghosh on ‘Memories In March’: Time to create space for gay in mainstream

RITUPARNO GHOSH, DEEPTI NAVALApril 13, 2011 (Calcutta Tube / IBNS): Ace filmmaker Rituparno Ghosh, who established himself as a brilliant actor in Just Another Love Story recently, is about to consolidate his position as an actor in  Sanjoy Nag’s debut film Memories in March based on Ritu’s own story, Parapaar. The film stars Deepti Naval, Rituparno Ghosh and Raima Sen in stellar roles. Rituparno holds out on the film and the intricacies of the cloistered gay identity that forms a segment. Read the interview at Calcutta Tube.

What is Memories in March about?

It is about emotional archiving. Arti Mishra, a  Delhi-based middle-aged divorcee,

has to rush to Kolkata when her 28-year-old son Siddharth, dies in a car crash. As she goes through his things over the four days of her stay, wanders around the flat he lived in, she discovers chapters in her son’s life she did not know about. So, she is shocked twice over – once by the suddenness of the death itself and once by this window that opens to offer her a glimpse into his life which is much more than what she understood or knew. She meets two of his colleagues, his boss Arnab, which I have portrayed, and his peer  Shahana played by Raima. Her interactions with these two friends of her dead son lead her to rethink and redefine many things about life, love, relationships and even death.

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What kind of character have you played in Memories of March?

I play the dead man’s boss Arnab Mitra, who, as it later transpires, was also his lover. When he meets Arti Mishra and she slowly learns the truth of his relationship with her son, her initial reaction is of complete animosity and hostility. She refuses even to believe that her son can make this kind of choice. Her conclusion is that the boss has exploited her son sexually by using his professional office. But what begins with denial followed by anger goes through a process of confrontation. It finally leads to an acceptance of choices, of the human body, of relationships that create a ‘family’ away from the rigid concept of the ‘family’ as we know it. With acceptance is born a new bonding between the grieving mother and her dead son’s grieving friends, who, in a manner of speaking, knew her son more intimately than she did. For the first time, an Indian film is exploring spaces through the life and death of a homophobic protagonist.


Is this one way of trying to bring the gay identity into the mainstream?

I would say that it is more about the blurring of the boundaries between the ‘insider’ and the ‘outsider.’ The film is a sort of a challenge posed to the water-tight compartments we place the ‘insider’ versus ‘outsider’ in. The minority for instance, is seen as an ‘outsider’ by the mainstream. But the ‘minority’ itself considers the mainstream an ‘outsider.’ Here we are trying to show that it is possible for the subjectively defined ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’ to live in peaceful and harmonious co-existence. I think the time is ripe to create spaces for the gay person and his manner of behaviour in mainstream society not only and not always through an amorous relationship. The film shows how a gay person behaves when he does not necessarily have a lover. Arti and Arnab find common bonding in the grief they suffer through the loss of Siddharth who both loved in their own way.


How does Arti learn about her son Siddharth’s relationship with Arnab?

That part is very delicate and suggestive and there is no loudness about it. It comes across very slowly. When Arti enters Sidhharth’s apartment for the first time, it is dark. On the cell-phone, Arnab gives her precise directions to the switch board and the lights, tells her where to go to find what and all this confuses her a little. In another scene, I have to fetch food from the kitchen and lay it on the table and then serve it. When Arti tries to find her husband’s new cell phone number, Arnab tells her where to find the list of numbers on the wall and make the call she wants to. These are little bytes of action that puzzle her, surprise her and then shock her.


So it is not a mother-son story?

The mother-son story is the trigger for what comes later. It is about death versus life for example. It is about a new ‘family’ that gets created beyond the popularly accepted connotation of ‘family’ within a sexist society. Arti Mishra, within her socially conditioned mindset, assumes that it is Shahana (Raima Sen) who is her dead son’s lover. Shahana did indeed have a crush on her son. But it was Arnab’s love Siddharth responded to so that is a strange kind of ‘rivalry’ between Shahana and Arnab – they are in love with the same man!


When you are being directed by another director, doesn’t the urge to correct things or do things your way interfere in your work as an actor?

I did feel at certain moments during the shooting that this given shot or scene could have been done differently. But I had to give up after a point of time because my approach, treatment and style are very different from Bunty’s (Sanjoy). My films are smooth – with a proper beginning, middle and end. Sanjoy’s film is complete in its totality yet it exudes a sense of incompleteness I will never be able to achieve.


Why is the film done in Hindi?

Simple. Because Deepti Naval cannot speak Bengali at all and we were firm about having her play Arti Mishra. Moonmoon Sen had suggested her for this role. Someone else also mentioned Deepti later. Both Arnab and Shahana are Bengali in the film. So it has become a multi-lingual film with English, Hindi and Bengali working together. The budget went up by four times because charges of technicians of Hindi language films are very high. But when Shrikant Mohta (of Shri Venkatesh Films) agreed, we went ahead with the Hindi thing.


Are you comfortable in Hindi?

To be frank, I am uncomfortable with Hindi primarily because I believe in the significance of words and dialogue that play extremely important roles in my films. I am an actor in Memories in March and not director. As an actor, my Hindi is horrible.

But the advantage of being a screenplay writer and director rolled into one, I had a brainwave and put in a line for my character who says to Arti, ‘you must forgive my Hindi’ and that took care of the problem!


And what about Siddharth, Arti’s dead son?

He is absent in the entire film. There is not even a photograph of him in the film at any place or time. It gives the audience the opportunity of constructing their own image of Sidhharth because his absence is actually a very powerful presence. Once again, we come back to the insider-outsider dichotomy. A mother has lost her son to death. But Life has given her two new live friends in the form of Arnab and Shahana. Arti had come for the rituals of her son and also to collect the things he had left behind. But she discovers that these ‘things’ both tangible and intangible, have already been distributed and dispersed and scattered in ways that make it impossible for her to ‘gather’ them and ‘take them’ away.

Shoma A. Chatterji

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