Vancouver Queer Film Fest: Rituparno Ghosh astonishes in Chitrangada: The Crowning Wish
A film by Rituparno Ghosh. In Bengali with English subtitles
Talented Bengali actor and director Rituparno Ghosh should have been celebrating his 50th birthday next week after viewing his extraordinary second-to-last feature film, Chitrangada: The Crowning Wish, at the Vancouver Queer Film Festival.
But the multiple winner of India's National Film Award was tragically struck down by a heart attack in Kolkata in May.
The magnitude of the loss to Indian cinema is abundantly clear to anyone who watches Chitraganda: The Crowning Wish, a lusciously lit and deeply personal drama about a choreographer considering gender-reassignment surgery.
The film opens with Rudra Chatterjee (played by Ghosh), a dynamic and decisive choreographer, preparing to stage Nobel Prize winner Rabindranath Tagore's dance drama Chitrangada.
Loosely based on the the epic Mahabharata, Tagore's 1892 version portrays Chitrangada as an Amazon who only discovers her feminine side after falling in love with the princely warrior Arjuna.
In a case of life imitating art, Rudra's life is similarly transformed after meeting the much younger Partho (played by Bengali actor and cricketer Jisshu Sengupta), a heroin-addicted and highly irresponsible drummer.
Partho's passion for the choreographer evokes parts of "Rudie" that she never previously acknowledged, resulting in a bond of volcanic intensity.
Ghosh never appears to be acting; this is raw, real, and deeply emotional as his character evolves from an autocrat in rehearsals to a somewhat needy, relationship-obsessed woman. It's an authentic and memorable performance, often puncuated by extended silences, by an actor at the pinnacle of his career.
Sengupta, the wild-eyed impulsive lover, offers an ideal foil, responding in unexpected ways to Rudra's decision to go under the knife.
The film also explores how Rudra's mother and father (Anashua Majumdar and Deepankar De) respond to their son's predicament, offering insights into how gender expression can affect families. It's a universal story and they, along with an understated counsellor (played by Anjan Dutt), demonstrate Ghosh's masterful casting.
It's a rich cinematic experience, thanks in part to the director's heavy reliance on close-ups, which add to the emotional intensity. But credit also goes to the cinematographer, Abhik Mukhopadhyay, who manages to make even bathrooms and hospital sleeping areas seem compelling.
Without a doubt, Chitrangada: The Crowning Wish will be seen as a classic in examining the trans experience and gender expression. It's too bad for the world that Ghosh didn't live longer to make more magnificent films like this.
Chitrangada: The Crowning Wish screens at the Vancouver Queer Film Festival at the Rio Theatre on Thursday (August 22 at 6:30 p.m. It will also be screened at Cineplex Odeon International Village Cinemas on Friday (August 23) at 4 p.m.
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