“Do you really think of yourself as a woman, Chapalda?”

……………..”Why? Don’t you?”

“No.” “You don’t think that the Lord started making you a woman and then made a mistake?”

“No. I don’t. I think women are one category, men are another. And we’re a third category.”

‘Arekti Premer Golpo’ (2010), directed by National Award winning filmmaker Kaushik Ganguly continues to stand out as an exemplary film that took a profoundly sensitive look at the angst and frustrations suffered by transgender people, and people of the ‘third category’. In one simple phrase the film conveys its entire purpose – it invites the audience to understand and appreciate fellow- individuals that belong to a third, more fluid category of gender.

One more thing that stood out in the film was master auteur Rituparno Ghosh’s portrayal of, well, himself in a manner of speaking. The director donned the acting hat and launched himself headlong into a narrative that took the audience on a soul-stirring ride through the poignant discourse of gender norms, gender roles and fluidity, and the breaking of age-old barriers to come face to face with a society that is orthodox and judgemental on its best day.

On his 5th death anniversary, let us take a minute to remember the man not only for his masterful filmmaking and his incredibly sensitive approach towards handling difficult content, but for the fact that he was not just a filmmaker, but a champion of life in so many ways.

The LGBT movement has seen its fair share of ups and downs in India. For a country that produced the Kama Sutra and whose mythology, religious texts and sites of worship reek of different and abundant expressions of sexuality, the hypocrisy that is built into the very fabric of the society is already a much talked about subject. While a certain section of the urban genteel populace is slowly and seemingly, warming up to the idea that sexual orientation need not be put into air-tight boxes and labelled, the major bulk of the Indian people, which includes the so-called petite bourgeois, the middle classes and the underclasses, is yet to come to terms with it. Centuries of brain-washing has ensured that we live today in a phallocentric, normatively heterosexual society where everything from the ‘wrong’ skin colour to the ‘wrong’ gender or body type has consequences. In a society where even 8 year olds are brutalised and sodomised -- one, for being young and weak, and two, in case of girls, for the additional reason that they belong to the ‘weaker sex’, (and are thus deemed by depraved minds as even deserving of terror and ‘punishment’) -- it is hardly surprising that genders beyond the binary stereotype find it difficult to create a narrative and carve a niche for themselves.

It is here that Ghosh left an indelible mark. Apart from his unforgettable film legacy that changed the face of cinema in Bengal at a time when the latter was at its lowest ebb, Ghosh put himself time and again in the line of fire as the trailblazer of the ‘other’ gender. Unlike some of his more popular, commercial counterparts in other parts of the country, he never dithered when it came to expressing, perhaps even flaunting, his sexuality. He took pride in being himself and led the way for so many others to open their minds, and ‘come out’.

Ghosh’s films having the most effect on the Bangali middle class, his uninhibited exploration of his own sexual identity, and the intrepid portrayal of the third gender, had more profound impact than perhaps even he imagined. An object of ridicule for a very long time, Ghosh rose above the thoughtlessness with which he was so often made fun of, and managed to make an example of himself, as someone very close to the bangali bhadralok consciousness, who understood the pains of agonies of every middle class home, and in return asked the audience to take a peek into his own pains, his own sexuality as he plodded along on his journey, like every one of us.

It would perhaps not be wrong to say that Ghosh embodied, quite literally, the ‘ardhnariswar’ – half man, half woman. United in one, and stronger. His loss affected the bangali middle and upper middle class audiences deeply, for it was as if every one of us had suffered a personal loss, even though we might not have set eyes on him while he was alive. And that is why, it was so important that one of our own had taken it upon himself to make the case for the ‘other’ gender, use his craft as a means to drive home the point. For when he spoke, people listened. And God knows the country needs someone like that – a leader who gave a voice to the marginalised, challenged normativity, lived fearlessly, and taught others to do so. We salute the man on the 5th anniversary of his untimely demise, for his undaunted pride in his own self.