A few days ago while chatting over tea with some Bong acquaintances, discussion turned to movies by Rituparno Ghosh. This is a crowd of urban, educated, professional (or not), middle-class Bengalis who have spent about equal parts of their lives in India and outside. As is usually the case in such gatherings, us ladies were seated in the informal dining area outside the kitchen whereas the men were in the living room.
Ghosh has been more graphic in depicting sexuality than most other contemporary Bengali directors and these ladies took issue with that. The popular opinion was - if you do have something different and unusual to say via cinema, you don't need to resort to nudity and adult language to say it.
After all, Satyajit Ray never had to do either and still made world-class cinema. All his movies can be watched with family without fear of outraging anyone's innocence. The ladies had a long list of Ghosh movies that had offended their sensibilities with Antar Mahal and Dosar being the top two.
I loved how the betrayed wife in Dosar played by Konkona Sen, says to her husband when he wants to talk to her his affair after the death of his lover "Sorry but I am plenty busy right now and can't take responsibility for your catharsis". To not take note of the little gems like this one scattered throughout the movie and instead focus to the more run of the mill depiction of sex was rather confusing to me. With all due respect, these sisters were completely missing the point of the story.
Besides Bollywood with its item-numbers and "smoldering" item-girls has raised the bar of acceptable level of vulgarity in family entertainment pretty high. The same ladies have no problem dancing to Kajra Re at a party with her little daughters joining in. It is not as if we are still gathered about the living room television, watching Mother India and Pakeezah when Ghosh came along with all his corruptible stuff.
So, I am not sure why he is required to be the upholder of Bengali morality - the movies are already rated as not suitable for immature audiences. What else is he supposed to do ? You wonder if the Bongs might be more distressed by his message than how it is delivered.
Anyway, hearing this indictment against one of my favorite Bengali directors, I had to wonder who then was Ghosh's audience ? The illiterate and semi-literate masses of Bengal would not find much to like about his modern, cosmopolitan characters, their complex motivations, subtle emotions and nuanced wordplay.
I have no reason to believe that the gentlemen over in the living room engaged in earnest discussions of politics and economy (topics they do not think the distaff side is able to contribute to) would have a dramatically different world-view than their wives specially with several women mentioning that their spouses found Ghosh's cinema distasteful as well.
If the husbands of these ladies felt similarly offended by Ghosh's take on love outside marriage and the state of the modern marriage itself, then that's a sizable chunk of his potential audience gone - what is Ghosh left with ? While everyone agrees that he is talented, they don't like it when he goes so far out of line from what is acceptable in bhadralok society. If these Bongs are a slice of the "average Bong" pie, it is bad news for Bong filmmakers who dare to provoke.