Review: Rwituparno Ghosh – The Play

Rwituparno Ghosh

The play Rwituparno Ghosh written and directed by Rakesh Ghosh is not a biographical document on the Bengali film director Rituparno Ghosh but a fictional treatment of the day he died.

The play opens with the central character, Apratim, getting ready to leave for Nandan, the arts complex in Kolkata. He wishes to go there to pay his last respects to Rituparno Ghosh whose dead body would be brought there for the public to show their respect. Apratim is an openly gay man who works at an ad agency and likes to dress in a way that is not in obedience of patriarchal gender stereotypes. He has not left his room for the last seven days. He has locked himself up for he was abused by a bunch of “straight guys”. They called him “Rituparno”. Apratim had protested and that was enough for the homophobic men to put up a show. Police wouldn’t take his report because Apratim wore make up! He was finally rescued from the situation by some Arindamda of a certain NGO.

But today Apratim wants to go out. His parents are objecting to his decision from a sense of “love” and are trying to protect him from further abuse.

Other characters are introduced shortly. First, Apratim’s aunt: Jhinuk Pishi – she is a renowned psychologist. She has been trying to “cure” her nephew of homosexuality ever since he came out. She is now living separately after the marriage of her only son; she couldn’t adjust with her daughter-in-law. She misses being with the family but she is coping with it. She has been called over by Apratim’s mother to talk him out of his decision of going out.

Second, is Apratim’s mother. She is like most of our mothers – a product of patriarchy. She has been taught to believe in the patriarchal construct of family – where there is a daughter she must either be someone’s mother, sister, wife and even aunt and that she should not question the setup but find happiness in totally drowning out her wishes and desires in the pool of “family responsibilities”. For a long time she has been dealing with her son’s homosexuality and his unconventional dress sense.

Third, Apratim’s father. He too, like most our fathers, walks the house with an air of authority around him. He is like the Supreme Court of India whose verdict is final. If he decides something is wrong then it is wrong, illegal and unnatural and no one will have a say about it. If the Supreme Court decides something is miniscule then it is miniscule and there won’t be further discussion about it.

Rwituparno Ghosh

Apratim’s parents like all “good parents” are: trying to protect him from further abuses by not letting him go out. They are doing so “out of love”. Love here is used as a tool of coercion. By stopping him from doing what he wants to do.

Fourth, Apratim’s “thammi “ (Grandmother). She is a woman of great pride and dignity. She lives in an old age home, not because she has been sent there, but because she went there voluntarily. Apratim and his “thammi “are close to each other: kindred spirits. She reminds one of Kushwant Singh’s “The Portrait of a Lady” where the author describes his relationship with his grandmother. Here, Apratim shares a similar kind of relationship with his grandmother. The only difference being that Apratim’s grandmother is not a conservative woman unlike the granny in Singh’s story. Even at this age “thammi” believes in independence. The audience is told that Apratim first came out to her and she was fine with it. She says that whenever people used to salaciously speculate about Rituparno ‘s gender she promptly used to counter that with: “How does that even matter whether Rituparno is girly, manly or Bruce Lee?”

As for Mr. Arindam of a certain NGO, when the police was refusing to file a report of Apratim’s abuse, he had to take help of this Mr. Arindam. So, for him Arindamda had become a saviour. Later, the audience finds out the same Arindam da was trying to use Apratim to boost his NGO’s profile. Finally, Apratim’s cousin arrives. He mockingly asks Apratim to put a sticker on himself saying “boy” or “girl” because with Apratim one doesn’t know. He even tries to slap his non-conformist cousin. Apratim cannot take it anymore and reveals that this violent young man used to sexually abuse him during their family visits to Puri.

After a moment’s silence, the aunt, the father and the mother agree to let him go out. But by now his desire to do so has died. When he refuses to help Arindamda, the offended man remarks that his NGO won’t help him anymore and leaves and one after the other everyone else follows. Apratim is now alone in the room, he lets the window open which brings in fresh monsoon air. So long, Apratim has been fighting for his basic rights of living free; he would put up make-up as an act of rebellion. But today he feels a lot better. And, in the very next scene Apratim breaks his mirror and leaps on to the other side of it. This act signifies that from now on he will live better, without inhibitions or anything to hold him back. He is now free.

The characters in the play are mostly gray i.e., none of the characters are depicted as impeccably good or moral. They all have their drawbacks. “Thammi”, who is so independent , also realizes that her independence can sometimes border on sheer vanity, which can cause unnecessary hurt. His pishi who is leaving separately on her own and is claiming to be happy also is yearning to get back to her family. Apratim’s parents may initially come across as dictatorial, but in a deeply touching scene, the mother hugs Apratim and breaks down in helpless tears. His father kneels at his independent-minded mother’s feet and begs her to help him at this difficult time. It is perhaps only the man from the NGO who, along with the sexually abusive cousin, emerge as the two “villains” in the play.

This is not about one person or a certain community. This play is about the universal community of lonely people – people who are alone or are in exile within the society and “Rituparno” is no longer a proper noun but a collective noun. It denotes the universal group of people who are lonely.

The play reminds one of Vikram Seth’s poem “All you who sleep tonight”. Especially the lines

“Know that you aren’t alone
The whole world shares your tears,
Some for two nights or one,
And some for all their years.”

Kaustav Manna
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