Writer, film and theatre director, and singer Dr Sangeeta Datta’s documentary Bird of Dusk is a befitting tribute to multi-faceted Rituparno Ghosh in more ways than one. It brings to fore his immeasurable contribution to the world at large, from films to art and culture, and from fashion to gay rights activism, and discusses the overbearing influence that the cultural icon has on the younger generation. The documentary, which has been doing rounds of the international film festival circuit, and winning accolades, was screened to a packed hall at the India Habitat Centre recently.
Datta, who had a long working association with Ghosh and calls him a brother, close friend, work associate and collaborator, recounts, “The journey of Bird of Dusk began in 2017 as soon as I had finished editing the book on him, Rituparno Ghosh: Cinema, Gender and Art. The film was shot over a period of a year. And the bird took its flight in 2018.”
The story of Ghosh’s life is interrelated to the changing cityscape of Kolkata, and Datta doesn’t adhere to a monotonous tone, but shoots the film over the course of a year, and manages to capture the enthralling beauty – the sights, sounds, seasons, flavours and festivals - of the city, and juxtapose it with Ghosh’s multi-hued and charismatic personality. The river offers the metaphor of fluidity, just as Ghosh was trying to escape gender definitions, and believed in the fluidity of life and death, and hated the compartmentalising or boxing of thoughts and ideas.
The documentary relies heavily on the director’s interviews (from archives) and his memoirs titled First Person. The stellar presence of the likes of Soumitra Chatterjee, Sharmila Tagore, Aparna Sen, Prosenjit Chatterjee, among many others gives a sneak peek into the history of Bengali cinema, and Ghosh’s humongous contribution, his crew talks at length about his filmmaking, while international festival curators lend credence to his position in the world cinemascape. She tells, “Ritu lived and loved Kolkata dearly, and his life and works are a product of this city and its culture. But we struggled with the structure because there was so much footage. I was sure that I would not follow a master narrative with a master voice-over. I was missing Ritu a lot. There was a sense of loss all through. I used a fluid narrative, intermixed it with his filmography and interviews of the cast and crew, eloquent pieces of writing, archival material of chats, interviews, shows, went back to folk music and brought Baul songs for Bird of Dusk.”
Emotionally it was a draining experience for Datta, who says, “There are very few people who are so informed as he was. I miss him and the long conversations on cinema, film history, literature, music and art which I would perhaps never have with anybody.”
There were challenges galore. “People still don’t have confidence in the documentary as a form of investment,” she says. The other problems were taking time out as she had many work commitment. “But all through, I could hear Ritu say, ‘Don’t hurry. Don’t rush,’ that is what has made it worth it all,” she says.