An ‘extraordinary’ at the same time ‘unusual’ film in the Indian intellectual perspective; especially the way it knots the sensible strings like cultural androgyny, gender, same–sex relationships, bi-sexuality and several other exceptional alternatives. People stamped it as a mere film on delicate alternative issues but from my perspective Aar Ekti Premer Golpo is neither a magnum opus in the mass of the stereotyped gay cinema nor does it approve ‘just another love story’; in the truest sense of the phrase, it unfastens those stories rather Galpos yet unheard, yet untold.
Chapal Bhaduri, the first self-proclaimed Bengali gay veteran actor who was once celebrated for the depiction of female roles in Bengali folk (Jatra) theatre plays himself in the film. He resides in a ramshackle home in north Kolkata, torn with destitution. Deserted by the family, ignored by the neighbours, mortified by society, he is still struggling with his life. This veteran actor embarks on his secret love-life with his past male lovers. Aar Ekti Premer Galpo gyrates around the Delhi-based contemporary filmmaker Abhiroop Sen (Rituparno Ghosh himself) who is put in-charge of making a documentary film on Chapal Bhaduri by a UK based producer Dorothy (Charlotte Haywards). But shooting of the film in Kolkata is put on hold because of the media attention to the film. Abhiroop comes across Uday (Jisshu Sengupta) coincidentally. Uday is a young wild-life photographer who proposes an alternate shoot location at his ancestral mansion in Hetampur, a small village in Birbhum district.
There is a film-within-the-film and the total flow of the story reveals the intricacies of relationship of Abhiroop with his cinematographer Basu (Indraneil Sengupta), who is a contentedly connubial man. Director Kaushik Ganguly impresses with the detailing of the fact of a bisexual man, who basically swings with the flow of the waves and loses the shore to get hold onto the illusive “balancing act” between his wife and his boyfriend.
The unconventional ways of dress, wearing make-ups and so called effeminate behaviour of Roop point out the essential discrepancies between the individualistic way of leading life of a person of alternative sexuality and the dreadful seclusion along with the social humiliation that Chapal Bhaduri has undergone all through his life. The movie deals with a very old cultural tradition of men playing female roles on the traditional Bengali opera and Chapal Bhaduri (at the age of 71), the then queen of Bengali theater, is one among those androgynous men. He starts narrating his love life and the tragic consequences thereof in front of the camera. Abhiroop starts recognizing himself with Chapal’s social rejection, sense of alienation and eternal loneliness. The relationship between Basudeb and Abhiroop is so full of stimulating factors that one feels it can shatter at any time. The emotional insecurity of Abhiroop with regard to Basu makes him call up his mother a number of times and weep inconsolably whenever he feels helpless. Even as he loves Basu, there is his wife Rani (Churni Ganguly) that is hovering in the background.
There are so many of layers of the film and some of the facets are very hard to express in words. There are two parallel narratives that flow side-by-side. The most important story of the director making a documentary on the queen of yesteryears is intertwined along with the fictional interpretations of the colourful life of Chapal. Roop and Chapal are celebrating their androgyny in all possible ways. In one of the scenes, Roop is having a conversation with Uday about the location of shoot for the first time. The glance of Krisna Temple stimulates some significant conversation with Uday, where he explains about Chaitanya. He explains that Chatanya was basically the epitome of cultural androgyny, Krishna and Radha combined in one corpus who stood against all kinds of discrimination and seeked liberation through music; and 500 years back all these things happened so organically that it is hard to believe today. This entire interpretation gives a totally different dimension to the whole film.
Roop once tells Basu, “Someone is paying a price for our relationship”- this extends to span the other relationships within the film too, in the past and also in the present. Basu (Indranil) comprises a larger part of the movie. The character of Basu is quite shallow in my perspective and confused as a person, just as bi-sexual men are. He is unable to hold the depth and finer details of Roop’s personality. Indranil Sengupta has marvelously represented Basu in all the visuals and reveals his credibility in terms of the demands of the character. As each flashback returned to the present, Abhiroop and Basu shared their moments of closeness, silence, conversation and the flashbacks perfectly resonated with the story of Chapal’s life which was all in the mind of Abhiroop, who identifies the subject of the film with his life’s episodes. The transitions of frames and the cinematography in these shots are simply brilliant and the representations of these visuals are quite interesting. It also mystifies and underscores the uncertainty of the relationship. The entire film travels into the flashback to young and gorgeous Chapal Bhaduri, sometimes dressed in bridal ceremonial clothes, sometimes wearing much ordinary Sharees.
In the flow of the story Chapal started living with Tushar, whom he met during the journey to Tarapith. Uday doubles up as Tushar. The representation of Tushar in the film-within-the-film in a very short span is quite significant and the unconditional bonding of Chapal with Tushar gives the whole film a newer dimension all together. Even in the real front, the bonding between Uday and Abhiroop leaves several questions in our mind. The bonding between Gopa (Rani) and Chapal (Abhiroop) is something that is difficult to comprehend, rather that is something beyond our conventional interpretation. In one moving scene, the younger Chapal pulls the ailing and bedridden Gopa to an improptu dance, with “Pran Bhoriye Trisha Hariye” playing in the backdrop. The musical score of Dibyajyoti creates a brilliant spark that successfully fuses Chapal’s past with Abhiroop’s present.
Rituparno Ghosh is phenomenal in both the screen representations-the filmmaker and the younger Chapal-offering two utterly different facets, though integrated to each other within him. The film leaves several of the questions unanswered. Would Rani ask for the same if Abhiroop was a woman? Doesn’t Chapal deserve the company of Tushar and in the real front, Abhiroop and Uday respectively? Does Abhiroop too, suffer from the sense of social ostracism which Chapal does? There are no perfect answers possible to these questions as such.