There was widespread talk in different communities of Kolkata before and after the release of the movie “Praktan”. The superstar of contemporary Bengali cinema, Prosenjit was again acting in a movie with another celebrated heroine of Bengali cinema – Rituparna Sengupta. They were last seen together in a movie 14 years ago. Being a huge successful pair on the silver screen, fans were thrilled with the prospect of viewing the star pair together again. The duo of Nandita Roy and Shiboprosad Mukherjee fulfilled the wish of the fans.
This post is not about the film. This is about the real-life character on whom Prosenjit’s role in the film was based to a considerable extent.
The film shows Prosenjit as an ‘explorer guide’ owning a small firm named “Kolkata Walks”. His job is to take tourists on a walking tour showcasing the various historical buildings and nooks of the city, equipped with interesting anecdotes. Prosenjit himself had very little idea about walking tours which have been conducted over the past few years in the city of Kolkata/ Calcutta. There have been heritage walks, food walks, walks related to special themes and even ghost walks. To give him a clear idea of the role, the Director took help of a firm that actually conducts walking tours in Kolkata. Incidentally the firm’s name is very similar to that in the film. It is Calcutta Walks.
The firm is a pioneer in popularizing walking tours in Kolkata. Founded by Iftekar Ahsan, Calcutta Walks refers to their tourist guides as explorers. Among the many explorers, Ritwick Ghosh was chosen to teach exploring to the superstar. Ritwick, who joined Calcutta Walks as an explorer is at present a co-owner of the firm. Prosenjit role modeled Ritwick’s mannerisms as an explorer in the film. Other than the film, there were several “walks” conducted for the enthusiast general public, where Prosenjit and Rituparna participated, aptly guided by Ritwick. All of a sudden Ritwick Ghosh became much more popular than he was earlier thanks to the huge media coverage.
Incidentally, Ritwick Ghosh is an old friend of mine. Having an outbound nature like me, we used to hang out pretty often. We have done treks together, visited old rajbaris and temples, chatted endlessly on different topics related to travel and shared some great moments. I decided to explore the “real” explorer behind that “reel” explorer and landed up at Ritwick’s place one fine morning.
I had not prepared any questionnaire for Ritwick. So the first question which popped out of my mind was the one which always made me curious.
“What is the difference between a guide and an explorer?” I asked Ritwick
Ritwick pondered a bit and finally said “Nothing really. It is not that an Explorer is not a guide. He is just like any other tourist guide in the city. Only that we believe a guide needs to have an uncanny exploring capacity to show his true potential. That is why we prefer to call our guides explorers. We want our all guides to have the passion for exploring. There is an explorer in everybody. If the person is passionate enough, then as a guide this exploring criterion helps especially when he moves in the nooks and corners of the city. Besides that you need to listen to your guests, understand their viewpoint and likings. That helps making their experience in walking enjoyable, rather than one way imparting of knowledge. But at the end of the day, technically there is no difference between guide and an explorer.”
In the movie “Praktan” nothing much is said about the background of “Ujaan”, the character played by Prosenjit. I mean, there is no mention as to whether he was an avid traveller through India. We do not know whether this was his first venture. Also, we have no clue as to what made him a history buff of this city.
That is the issue with a fictional character, rather with a “reel character”. It is not always possible to define the character to its fullest extent due to several constraints. But for a character in real life, thankfully you get to know in more details. My friend Ritwick Ghosh who hails from Jamshedpur was an avid traveller from his youth.
Ritwick has undertaken several treks, including the mother of all treks – The Round Annapurna Circuit in Nepal. Ritwick and his team faced a blizzard during this trek and survived it. The ultimate example of his passion for exploring is his venture to the Everest Base Camp. He did that when his daughter Tusu was only two months of age, despite his mother forbidding him to go.
“I did not want him to take that venture. Imagine, that time his daughter was almost like newborn. But then my son is so adamant in his decision, my pleading adds no value. Also, he had never any regrets for any of his decision.” added Ritwick’s Mother.
“Did you always want to be a tourist guide?” I asked Ritwick
“No, not really.“ said Ritwick “When I was in my teens, if anybody asked me what I would like to be when I grow up, I never said I wanted to be a tourist guide. But the love for nature was there. My Dad had a motorcycle. I used to move around the hillocks. There was a small cave where I used to sit. It was more introspecting than exploring.”
Ritwick had a steady job in a reputed power supply organisation. It is here that he got the first taste of camping and trekking on trips which opened a completely new world to him. He formed a trekking group with his colleagues and went to Everest base camp and Round Annapurna Circuit as already mentioned.
“Did these trips give you the idea to leave your job?” I asked
“These trips gave me the interest of travelling around India. Then I got an opportunity to serve as an escort for four Brazilian women who wanted to go to Bihar to visit a Yoga University. Now there is a technical difference between an escort and a tourist guide. A tourist guide should have all the information and historical data of a tourist spot at his fingertips. But an escort is like a tour manager who can also employ a guide. An escort needs to be very vigilant and have to take care of the tourists accompanying you in the every possible way. Like taking care of the food, helping in communicating with locals and all sort of troubleshooting. This was my first assignment where I got paid for taking people around.”
After speaking over a long stretch, Ritwick added “That happened around 15 years ago.”
“I remember around 10 year ago, after we did a small trek to Latpanchor you said you actually wanted to be a guide. You wanted to give an exam by which you can be authorized guide for Department of Tourism. So did the idea of becoming an explorer leaving aside your early ventures of travel agency game into your mind at that time.” I asked
“No, No. The idea of taking people around was always in my mind, one way or the other. Shortly after escorting those four Brazilian women, I again got another assignment. This time it was escorting a German journalist in some remote villages of Sunderbans. She was a key member of a team making a documentary film. This documentary film was on Indian Railways. Her name was Gabriela alias Gaby. She saw and understood my potential. On return from Sunderbans, she promptly chose me to escort with her and the team. Her tickets were booked for the very day in the afternoon. I was practically picked up from Howrah Station. I talked to my parents over phone about my journey and Gaby assured them that everything will be taken care of. So I started my journey for over 30 days with Gaby and her team all around India. That is where my wish to be travel guide was born.” Said Ritwick with a smile.
It actually took around 10 years for Ritwick after his first big assignment to join “Calcutta Walks” as an explorer. He had left his secure job around 2003. Just after that I joined him for some trips which comprised of short treks as well as many heritage trips. Those trips were his reconnaissance survey alias recce of the places before he could actually take tourists there. Ritwick had a travel agency of his own which he ran for a considerable period of time, before changing his gear to be an explorer. So in his professional life, it was a role reversal of “Ujaan” as shown in the film “Praktan”. Ujaan went to open travel agency leaving his full-time career as an explorer. Ritwick did the opposite.
“How did Shiboprasad approached Calcutta Walks for the film? Was he aware of the existence of such a walking tour company before ?” I asked Ritwick
“No, He wasn’t. Actually, you might not be aware of a fact that a character in Shiboprasad’s film “Ramdhanu” was based on my wife Madhura Mukherjee. I got introduced to Shiboprasad through my wife only. Then he came to know about “Calcutta Walks” and seemed to be interested in our works. He called me later and told me that he wanted to make a film where the character of the hero will be based on an explorer of Calcutta Walks. The rest as you know is history. Working with Prosenjit and Rituparna was a great experience. Prosenjit is a quick learner. When I saw him in the film leading the tourists through the road, his mannerism was just like me. It was like I was seeing a mirror image of mine in the screen.” said Ritwick pouring some tea for both of us.
“Wow, I was not aware of this fact. Ritwick…..you never told me this! This is a great feat that both husband and wife was chosen as the prototype for lead characters in films by the same director. Which character of Ramdhanu was based on her?” – said I
“The character played by Rachna Banerjee.” said Ritwick with a sheepish smile.
In the film”Praktan”, Ujaan leaves his bohemian style and lives life with his second wife as a typical middle-class person. But Ritwick, through married with a kid is still very much bohemian in nature.
“After all, he is my son.” said Ritwick’s Dad with a very proud smile. “I left my secure job for a much lower paying job too. My love of work and sense of dignity made me do it. I knew from his childhood that he is bohemian in nature and it feels good to see his photographs in newspaper nowadays. However, there is a big difference between his type of bohemianism and mine. I never ignored my duties towards my family. Ritwick however, has ignored his duties towards his family for the sake of his passion many times. It would have been better if he had some more sense of responsibility.”
And what does Ritwick’s better half Madhura Ghosh has to say about Ritwick’s “sense of responsibility” ? Madhura ably supported Ritwick throughout their 20 years of married life. She supported the family financially too by doing tuitions initially and then taking a job of school principal. At present, she is employed in a middle management role in a corporate.
When asked about Ritwick’s sense of responsibility towards the family, Madhura said “See, there are certain prices you pay when you marry a Bohemian like Ritwick. You have to live with it. Sometimes I used to get irritated with him, but at the end of the day, he is actually a nice man. So I have let him enjoy his own lifestyle. I do my own part my own way, but I have let him loose. I know there is no point tying him up. You cannot hold back a bohemian person like Ritwick to the routine world. You have to let him go.”
In the film “Praktan”, Ujaan’s wife did not let him go and went away from his life. I personally felt Ujaan had to compromise with his passion in his second marriage. His second wife ( role played superbly by Aparajita ) made him a family man with a greater sense of responsibility. In that process, the world lost a bohemian.
Thankfully in real life, Ritwick did not have to compromise.
I can safely say because of Madhura Ghosh, Ritwick Ghosh is still walking the streets of Calcutta as an Explorer.
Ritwick Ghosh and his family members for taking out time for me