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About him, by him

SURESH KOHLI takes a look at veteran filmmaker Mrinal Sen's recently published autobiography "Always Being Born" and the man behind it.

Photo: S. Subramanium.

The Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee releasing Mrinal Sen's autobiography "Always Being Born" in New Delhi recently.

`BY ACCIDENT, a maker of films, I am what I am. My city, mercilessly maligned and dangerously loved, in a way, is a state of my mind. Good or bad, yes or no, they know me as an iconoclast. Among them, some are of the opinion that I am always out to attack cherished beliefs and traditional institutions without any cause. Only to sound important and look likewise. I am not quite sure if, what they say, is true... All in all, I realise I belong to a small minority of no-changers.'

That's how Mrinal Sen - the man who has made 28 feature films in Bengali, Hindi, Telugu and Oriya between 1955 and 2002 - describes himself at the very outset of his autobiography, "Always Being Born", released recently.

"I am a filmmaker by accident and an author by compulsion." But this reluctant 81-year-old indeed, had "no interest in cinema" and made a somewhat disastrous debut in the same year his eventual bete noire, Satyajit Ray made Pather Panchali. A film that - to quote Sen again - "shook the world... a classic of all times." His own, Raat- Bhore (`The Dawn'), self-admittedly was a bad film. "Having made such a lousy film, I reckoned I had humiliated myself."

But then, there is never going back. So strong is the effect of the arc lights. So motivating is the lure of the moving images. Mrinal Sen survived. His determination and the need to prove something to himself plodded him on, and on.

"I survived, I grew and I made Baishey Shravana (`The Wedding Day') at the very onset of the `60s - taking me back to the `40s - war, famine, riot, partition." Themes that have been recurrent metaphors for the filmmaker who, success or failure, has never looked back since.

And won almost all conceivable awards and honours, at home and abroad.

Deserving candidate

It would be wrong to say he did not deserve the Dadasaheb Phalke Award to be conferred on him later this year. At the same time, one could say that he got it by the process of elimination as well. Or even by default because some of his detractors believe it is the Left influence in the Government of the day that turned the tide in favour of this `committed' filmmaker from Bengal. There had been another contender. By all accounts, the other contender, Pran, too will get it sooner or later unless political factors again come into play. For Pran's name has been in the reckoning for the past few years, and has the support of some earlier winners of the coveted honour whose opinion is generally sought.

When asked for his vote/recommendation, the last year's awardee, Dev Anand, confessed to this writer: "They asked me and I said I don't care. Give it to anybody you like." Considering the group lobbying for Pran last year had opposed his recommendation, the disinterest was, perhaps, natural.

But if one looks at the list of the earlier awardees, and their achievements, it should have come to Mrinal Sen sooner. If for nothing else, for the sheer strength and the courage of his convictions, and the fact that he has taken Indian cinema beyond the narrow geographical boundaries, and helped transport it to world stage.

Talking about his last cinematic adventure - for film-making has nothing but been a constant adventure for him in five decades now considering he made his first film in 1955, and will receive the Phalke award in 2005 - Mrinal Sen had this to say: Aamar Bhuvan (`This My Land') was my last film. In 2002. If not the last, it was my latest! Someone close to me called it my swansong. A journalist said ditto to him. That was not true, I said."

And we hope it is not.

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