He received critical acclaim not only in West Bengal but internationally, too. He made Bollywood sit up and appreciate his work after his tryst in Hindi films. But his movies never set the box office on fire or made big money for his producers. They made money by selling DVD and satellite rights which fetched good prices. But many of his movies in Hindi just bombed at the box office.
Film director and actor Rituparno Ghosh died on Thursday in Kolkata after a cardiac arrest, leaving a void for the country's film making industry.
"He was a great film-maker who was responsible for bringing back Bengali urban audiences to the movie halls at a time when Bengali commercial movies were being dubbed 'rural man's entertainment' says Arijit Dutta, managing director, Priya Entertainments. Ghosh's Unishe April was the first Bengali movie screened at Priya cinema hall, a single-screen one in Kolkata, hitherto screening Bollywood movies. "His films changed the perspective of Bengali cinema," he adds. Dutta is former president of the Eastern India Motion Pictures Association.
Although Ghosh won numerous national and international accolades for most of his films, his attempt to woo a larger audience by making films in Hindi did not really took off. Raincoat, in which he roped in superstar Aishwarya Rai, was his most successful foray in Bollywood, raking gross box office collections of Rs 4.09 crore and also getting audiences in the UK. Yet, Last Lear starring Amitabh Bachchan bombed, with a gross box office collection of only Rs 1.6 crore. Even the much acclaimed Chokher Bali, also made in Hindi, made only Rs 66 lakh, despite its unique story line.
Producers say his Bengali films failed to gather audiences in the districts and producers just about managed to break even. "We knew our association with Ghosh would not fetch us blockbuster movies but we were producing movies of archival value," says Mahinder Soni founder and director of Venkatesh Films.
"As a producer, we were able to break even by distribution rights, satellite rights and DVD rights." Ghosh's average budget would be around Rs 1-1.5 crore. Film distributers in Kolkata say Dosar, starring Konkona Sen, made only Rs 40 lakh at the box office. Naukadubi, produced by Subhash Ghai (its Hindi version was known as Kashmakash) could make about Rs 70 lakh.
However, his films had a select audience in Kolkata. His movies would witness 75-80 per cent occupancy on the opening week in halls across the city, a number Hindi movies would struggle to achieve. But his films would find empty halls in the districts, says Dutta.
Ghosh had the uncanny ability to make films on shoestring budgets. Chokher Bali was made with a budget of Rs 2 crore, a figure less than a low-budget Hindi movie. "Beside his creative genius, Ghosh was extremely systematic in production . He had brought down the production cost of Raincoat from Rs 3 crore to Rs 1 crore, as he completed the entire shoot in 13 days," says Soni of Venkatesh Films, which produced both films. Ghosh wore many hats, as he would be the director and script writer and also did marketing for his own films, which helped producers to bring down the budget.