People knew you as Rituparno Ghosh, Bengal’s most distinguished filmmaker since Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen and Ritwick Ghatak. Everyone called you Rituda. For me, you were my dear friend Ritu. They called you the hope of Bangla cinema. But what happened to the hope when you left us suddenly? Your films, whether it was Utsab, Dahan or Shubho Mahurat, re-defined Bangla cinema. Working on water-tight budgets, you owned the cinematic space like an astronaut in space.
But that was your professional triumph. At home you were a lost, frightened soul, often scared of the inner demons that attacked you when you were alone. That’s the price you paid for your honesty. In a world where everybody hid in the closet, you came out of it wearing women’s clothes, just like Lily Elbe, the feminine persona that Eddie Redmayne has created so vividly and unforgettably in The Danish Girl.
Ritu, The Danish Girl is your story. You’d have identified with Lilly quite a bit, though of course you would have claimed to be far prettier. I loved your vanity about your looks. You genuinely believed you looked like Rekha, a true diva, who is unattainable and unfathomable. Like Lily, you were a bit of a tease. But Lily had a supportive partner who saw her through to her sex change. You fought your way to a gender reversal all by yourself. No family member by your side. No one to hold your hand when your screamed in pain.
You were very lonely after your parent’s death. You spoke to me often of ending your life. You discussed your love life with me, spoke of your long-standing affair with a married Bengali matinee idol. You’d also giggle and speak about various heroes who would come on to you strongly and how one hero’s wife wanted to kill you because he was attracted to you.
When I look back I wonder how many of these were tales that you made in your fertile head for self-preservation. Beyond a point I couldn’t probe because I lost link with you when you set off on that lonely frightening road to sex correction. It must have been an awful experience to go through these hideous hormonal changes with no one to comfort you.
In The Danish Girl, there is Einar’s wife to hold his hand as he transforms into Lilly. You chose to shut yourself away from all your friends. This, I got to know after you passed away.
After you lost your parents you lost control control of your urges. You wanted not just to look and feel like a woman; you wanted to be a woman. This, I couldn’t understand. Your last year must have been hell for you. You must have battled with the bodily changes trying to stand tall amidst the hectic hormonal imbalances until you simply toppled over the abyss.
I remember how hurt you were when a superstar Khan’s little son had asked you, ‘Should I call you Uncle or Aunty?’
When I saw Lily die with that peaceful smile on her face in The Danish Girl, I thought of you. I hoped against hope that you too passed away peacefully. I wish you could see The Danish Girl. You’d have called me after watching it and spoken excitedly about how effective Eddie Redmayne was as Lily, but why Lily’s makeup was all wrong.
Goodbye, my dear departed friend. I will never forget how you held my hand when I was bereaved. I couldn’t hold your hand when you were plunging into the darkness.
My cowardice. Forgive me.
Subhash K Jha