If one actress has ruled the Bengali film industry from the mid 1990s onwards, it is undoubtedly Rituparna Sengupta. A talented National Award winning actress and an able dancer, she is easily still the first choice today of filmmakers when it comes to performance oriented roles in current Bengali cinema.
Rituparna was born in in Kolkata. She showed an inclination for the arts at a very young age itself as she studied painting, handicrafts and dance at Chitrangshu. She did her schooling from Mount Carmel school and graduated with BA in History from Lady Brabourne College but cut short her Master's degree to pursue a career as an actress.
Rituparna made her cinematic debut with Prabhat Roy's Shwet Patharer Thala (1992) playing a strong supporting role. Looking at her debut, Rituparna recalls,
"I had no conception about cinema at that time. However, the film clicked very well and I received recognition in the industry as a newcomer. With my unconventional looks many had doubts if I could ever establish myself in the Bengali film industry."
The film proved to be extremely popular and won the National Award for Best Feature Film in Bengali. From then, there was no looking back and Rituparna was on her way becoming a leading lady. Following a few Bengali films like Sujan Sakhi, Moner Manush and Sansar Sangram, Rituparna went to Mumbai where she did a Bollywood film, Teesra Kaun (1994) opposite Chunky Pandey playing a murder victim besides doing a supporting role in Hema Malini's telefilm Mohini (1995). However making no headway in Bollywood, she returned to Kolkata and the more secure world of Bengali cinema.
After Prosenjit's acrimonious break-up with Debashree Roy, Rituparna and Prosenjit became the hit pairing in Bengali commercial films. Their first film together was Abujh Mon (1995) and the duo was responsible for quite a few commercially successful films like Shashurbari Zindabad (2001).
Dahan (1997), directed by Rituparno Ghosh, brought Rituparna into the spotlight as an actress of much merit winning her the National Award for Best Actress, sharing it with her co-star in the film, Indrani Haldar. The film tells the story of two women whose lives are changed forever by a traumatic incident. Romita (Rituparna Sengupta), newly-and-unhappily married, is molested by a gang of men while her husband looks on; Jhinuk (Indrani Haldar), a sprogressive schoolteacher, intervenes and helps the woman out. Although neither woman has done anything wrong, both are victimized, and their situation becomes a parable about the situation of women in contemporary India. Romita is accused of somehow provoking the men who attacked her, and as the case proceeds toward trial, Jhinuk is pressured to retract her statements as a witness. The film sees two stunning performances by Indrani Haldar and Rituparna Sengupta. Acknowledging the importance of Dahan in her life, Rituparna in a recent interview admitted,
"Meeting him (Ghosh) changed the entire flow of my career. It took me to a place where I had never seen myself before. Up till this time, I had always been seen as a very glamourous actress, but now, people started taking my performance skills very seriously. Rituparno Ghosh changed my image so drastically. He totally deglamourised me in Dahan. I was unsure if I could pull it off but he insisted I could do it if I wasn't naughty"
Rituparna also went on to do Utsab (2000) with Rituparno Ghosh, again achieving new highs as an actress. Other films that Rituparna has got much acclaim for include Paromitar Ek Din (2000), Mondo Meyer Upakhyan (2002), Alo (2003) and Nishijapon (2005).
Paromitar Ek Din, directed by Aparna Sen, got Rituparna much acclaim and high praise from no less a director like Mrinal Sen. The film sensitively explores the dual themes of friendship and loneliness and boasts of two wonderful central performances by Aparna Sen and Rituparna Sengupta. Sanaka (Aparna Sen) and Paromita (Rituparna Sengupta) are mother and daughter-in-law who, despite differences in age, backgrounds and temperaments, build a strong bond together. But when Paromita's marriage to Sanaka's son breaks down, social mores prevent the women from remaining close friends. While Paromita remarries and begins a new life, her mother-in-law is left heartbroken and alone and eventually falls seriously ill. When Paromita learns of Sanaka's condition, she flouts all convention and returns to nurse Sanaka on her deathbed.
Mondo Meyer Upakhyan saw Ripuparna work under Buddhadeb Dasgupta. The film marks several 'firsts' for Dasgupta. For the first time, he is working around a story that focusses heavily on the woman question. He did it earlier too, with intense impact, in Andhi Gali (1984). But in this film, he is dealing with the most marginalized, oppressed, exploited and humiliated section of womanhood - the sex worker. It deals with the lives and dreams of several women, individually and collectively.
One of Rituparna's biggest commercial success was Alo. The film marked comeback by Tarun Majumdar perhaps the most successful Bengali director, commercially. Majumdar had taken a break from filmmaking in the mid 1990s before returning with this Rituparna starrer. The film, based on a story Kinnardal by Bibhutibhushan Banerjee, revolves around an educated city girl who is married off in a village. The film looks at how she tries to bring light into the life of the villagers who are living in a world of myths and superstition. As in many of Majumdar's films, the soundtrack featured wonderful songs written and composed by Rabindranath Tagore. The film proved to be both - a critical and commercial success.
In Sandip Ray's Nishijapon, patriarch Bimal Das (Soumitra Chatterjee) has retired to a large house quietly nestled in the Himalaya foothills. During a holiday break, the widower has several house guests, including longtime buddy Brojen (Deepanker De), Bimal's two sons, the eldest son's wife and her sister. Eldest son Nirmal (Sabyasachi Chakraborty) is the more authoritative and practical, with a paternalistic attitude toward his directionless brother, Shyamal (Parambrato Chatterjee), and his own vivacious, matchmaking wife, Anita (Rituparna Sengupta). Anita has brought her sister along to marry her off to Shyamal. The film sees fine performances by the entire ensemble cast including Rituparna. Quoting critic Pradip Biswas in Screen India, "Rituparna once again displays her acting metier with a passion and poses to justify the trauma of an archetype mother."
Rituparna has done all kinds of films and all kinds of roles in Bengali cinema be it off beat films or mainstream Bengali cinema, be it women-oriented films or merely playing the glam doll in mainstream cinema. But wanting to become more visible Nationally and with more interesting 'multiplex' films coming up ih the last few years in Mumbai, Rituparna returned to Hindi cinema with the fairly engaging comedy Main, Meri Patni Aur Woh (2005) co-starring Rajpal Yadav and Kay Kay Menon and the flawed marital drama Unns: Love Forever (2006).
Today while still the unquestioned queen of the Bengali films, she is doing enough films in Hindi as well.
Rituparna has also worked in Bengali films made in Bangladesh. She is a trained classical dancer and has her own dance troupe Bhabna Aaj O Kaal which performs various dance-dramas based on Tagore (Shyama, Meghdoot & Mayar Khela) and other themes and has made commendable contributions in the sphere of Dance Drama. She has also written columns in the periodicals Anandalok and Bangladesher Hriday.