"I hadn’t planned to act, in fact, when scripting the movie I had Rahul Khanna in mind for this role,” admits National Award-winning director Rituparno Ghosh who plays a pivotal part in Memories Of March that opens across theatres worldwide today.
The film traces the journey of a mother who after the sudden death of her son travels to another city to reclaim his ashes and rediscovers him through the memories of two strangers, one of whom turns out to be his gay lover.
“It’s an eye-opening trip for her as she realises that memories don’t belong to one person alone. There are others who also want to keep her son alive in their minds and hearts,” points out Ghosh, who has been living with death and loss since his mother passed away four years ago and his father more recently.
The film was initially supposed to be made in Bengali with Ghosh behind the camera. But Mahendra Soni and Srikant Mohanta of Sri Venkatesh Films suggested a new director would offer a fresh perspective to this subtle but intricate web of relationships. Around the time, Ghosh’s director friend Sanjay Nag wanted to move from TV serials to films and was interacting with him on another subject he wanted him to write. In the course of a conversation, Ghosh narrated this story to Nag and wondered if he would like to direct it. Nag was game and the film, first titled Parapar, was on the road.
The first surprise Nag sprung was to offer Ghosh the role of the son’s lover. “It’s not an all-encompassing character like the mother’s but it is a strong supporting role and Sanjay was convinced I was right for it,” recalls Ghosh who earlier had acted in the Oriya film, Katha Deithilli Ma Ku (2003). More recently, he faced the camera for Arekti Premer Golpo (Just Another Love Story in 2010), the first film on homosexuality after the decriminalisation of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, in which Ghosh plays a gay documentary filmmaker.
“Even earlier, both the directors had come to me with the parts and not vice versa. And though I used to act when I was younger, I prefer being behind the camera. But I have to admit that I’ve grown as an actor with each film as far as the craft is concerned,” adds Ghosh.
In this film, the challenge was interacting with an actor he had grown up watching, Deepti Naval. Interestingly, Ghosh had Jaya Bachchan in mind for the role of the mother when he was to direct it. “I’d approached Jayadi and she’d been in two mind because she was doing a lot of other things at the time,” he says.
When Nag took over, he signed on Naval and with her casting, the film turned from Bengali to English with a smattering of Hindi because it was more difficult than anyone had imagined for Naval to speak the lines in Bengali. So rather than distract her from her performance, Ghosh reworked the script in four days and Parapar became Memories In March.
“Deepti was a formidable co-star but inspirational,” says Ghosh. “Both of us gave each other the space we needed and there was also a strange chemistry that came from sharing the same kind of cinema that she’s been a part of and that I grew up on.”