The Bengali Boy Wonder

Riddhi Sen, who plays Kajol’s rebellious son in this week’s release, Helicopter Eela, won the National Award for Best Actor this year, for Kaushik Ganguly’s Bengali film Nagarkirtan (which won three other national awards).  At just nineteen, the young actor proved his mettle and won that much-coveted medal that stars crave.

He belongs to a family of actors (his parents are theatre and film artistes, Kaushik and Reshmi Sen; his grandmother, actress Chitra Sen ). He was noticed in the Bengali film, Open Tee Bioscope (2015); and did a few plays and small roles in several films (Lion, Chauranga, Bhoomi), before getting noticed for his immense talent in a big way, for the role of a transgender boy in Nagarkirtan, a risk for a young actor to take so early in his career (he was selected for the role when he was just seventeen). 

This film, a love story between the characters played by Sen and Ritwick Chakraborty, is quite different from the Malayalam film Njan Marykutty, which was about a transgender’s struggle for acceptance and dignity. Both films were acclaimed for their sensitivity to the LGBT cause.

Sen plays Parimal ‘Puti’, who knows from an early age that he is a woman in the body of a man. He runs away from home and joins up with a community of eunuchs in Kolkata, under the Guru Maa Anjali. He wants to undergo a sex change surgery to transform into a woman. Meanwhile he falls in love with Madhu (Chakraborty), a delivery boy with a Chinese restaurant, who also plays the flute, accompanying a kirtan.

They decide to elope and be together. Madhu takes Puti, dressed as a woman, to his home in Nabawip, where he is welcomed. Madhu’s family sings devotional songs in the local temple. Madhu plays the flute, his elder brother plays the harmonium and mother the cymbals. Puti is moved by the religious ceremony and reminded of the life he left behind. When his wig falls off, Puti runs away in shame, leaving his bag and mobile phone behind.

Madhu searches for him and calls Puti’s phone, which is picked up by his sister-in-law. Thinking he is talking to Puti, Madhu inadvertently gives out the truth about his relationship with the young man in female garb. He is thrown out of home for bringing disgrace to the family.

In search of Puti, Madhu discovers that hijras had found him begging and thrashed him mercilessly for stepping on to their turf. The cops intervene and take him to the police station. By the time Madhu reaches there Puti hangs himself, leaving Madhu devastated.

 Kaushik Ganguly had made another film with a gay theme, Arekti Premer Golpo (Just Another Love Story—2010) starring the late filmmaker Rituparno Ghosh, who played Abhiroop Sen, a transgender documentary filmmaker, with a married, bisexual lover (Indreneil Sengupta), who is a  cinematographer.

They plan a documentary on the life of the legendary jatra actor, Chapal Bhaduri, who was known for playing female parts on stage, when women were not allowed to act, and was known as Chapal Rani. The lines between reality and film get blurred and the relationships get tangled.

The appeal of Nagarkirtan obviously lies with the bitter-sweet tone of the love story, the religious symbolism and the tragedy of Puti portrayed with amazing poignancy by Riddhi Sen, which bowled over the Awards jury.

This is an actor to watch, and might just be able to crossover to Hindi cinema, and be more successful than other Bengali stars like Uttam Kumar, Biswajeet, Prosenjit, Parambrata Chatterjee, whose careers in Hindi cinema did not match their superstadom in their homes state.