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Films from the heart

Mrinal Sen: No compromises with the box-office. Photo: Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury

Mrinal Sen: No compromises with the box-office. Photo: Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury   | Photo Credit: Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury

Having completed 60 years in the industry, veteran filmmaker Mrinal Sen goes down memory lane in a freewheeling chat with Ranjan Das Gupta.

A collage of montages of a young man running down the lanes of a turbulent Kolkata in the early 1970s, middle class people with blank expressions in their eyes thinking of a bleak future, docu shots from the Vietnam war... these formed integral images in Mrinal Sen's films that won both national and international recognition.

This year octogenarian filmmaker Mrinal Sen completed 60 glorious years in the industry. Dressed in his usual white casuals, Mrinal Sen readies himself for an interview at his simple South Kolkata residence on a rainy afternoon. Sipping a cup of green tea, he says, “I hate to be branded as a political filmmaker. The term political is clichéd. Can you label Satyajit Ray as a humanist filmmaker or Tapan Sinha just as a brilliant storyteller?”

Leftist concerns

Point out that his films concentrated on the political in particular and highlighted his leftist concerns, and Mrinal Sen thinks a while before replying: “I have a leftist bent of mind and believe in Marxist ideologies. But I have never allowed my beliefs to dominate every frame. Neither have I supported imperialism. My films come straight from my heart based on my own observations and feelings without compromising with the box office.”

The poetic “Neel Akasher Neeche”, the satirical “Akash Kusum”, the socially concerned “Bhuvan Shome”, the documentation of Kolkata during the Naxalite movement and the lyrical “Khandahar” stand testimony to Mrinal Sen's brilliance and versatility.

Along with Ray and Ghatak, he formed the grand trio of Indian cinema. His team of cinematographer K.K. Mahajan and editor Gangadhar Naskar was as effective as Ray's team with Subrata Mitra and Dulal Dutta. Speaking of his illustrious contemporaries, Mrinal Sen confesses, “Ray had a wide vision, was disciplined and meticulous while Ghatak was unpredictable, bold in his thoughts, often pained by the pangs of Partition.”

The best period of Bengali films was in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. “There were imaginative and sensitive directors like Rajen Tarafdar, Ajay Kar and Bijay Bose who made commendable films with actors like Utpal Dutt, Uttam Kumar, Arundhuti Devi and Basanta Chowdhury. I must make a special mention of Arundhuti Devi in films like ‘Sister Nibedita' and ‘Jatugriha',” he recalls.

From Bikash Roy, Kali Banerjee and Utpal Dutt to Simi Garewal and Shabana Azmi, Mrinal Sen has worked with many highly gifted actors. How did he handle such different actors? Smiles Mrinal Sen, “According to their characters in my script. Remember the tough, yet confident, body language of Utpal Dutt in the climax of “Bhuvan Shome”? So involved was he that he could give that additional touch to his character beyond my instructions. Simi had a constant problem in delivering the word paisa in ‘Padatik'. I had to work on her to get the proper Bengali diction. Pankaj Kapur, my discovery in ‘ Khandahar', gave an excellent performance speaking with his static looks. Of course Tapan Sinha extracted even better work from him in ‘Ek Doctor Ki Maut'.”

The first break

After his maiden venture “Raat Bhor” (1961) flopped miserably, Mrinal Sen was a disturbed soul. He ranged the streets of Kolkata and Mumbai desperately looking for a break to make his kind of films. He received a lot of flak, discouragement and humiliation. His brother-in-law Anup Kumar, an efficient actor himself, stood by his side lending support like a true well-wisher. It was Hemanta Mukherjee who first noticed the fire in Mrinal Sen's eyes and offered to produce “Neel Akasher Neeche”. And history was made.

Does he plan to direct another classic in his 60th year as director? Mrinal Sen says, “I am toying with many ideas in my mind. If I am in good health and a proper state of mind, I will certainly direct a film in Bengali.”

On Mrinal Sen

Sir Richard Attenborough: I still remember the excellent rapport we shared when I was in India to shoot ‘Gandhi'. Mrinal's films are deeply rooted in the soil of Bengal, cinematic masterpieces in many ways. He feels ‘ Cry Freedom' is my best film, which I also agree with.

Goutam Ghosh: After Manikda (Ray), Mrinalda has been a true source of inspiration to me in every way and my most impartial critic. None of us can ever recreate a ‘ Bhuvan Shome', a ‘Padatik' or an ‘ Akaler Sandhane'.

Naseeruddin Shah: Initially I felt ‘Khandahar' was really boring. Later as I kept watching it, I realised how wrong I was. Mrinalda created poetry out of light and darkness.

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Printable version | Mar 31, 2020 2:06:48 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/magazine/films-from-the-heart/article2417951.ece

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