Sunday, 27 April 2014


Mrinal Sen is one of India’s most politically active filmmakers. He is a Bengali by birth and Calcutta is the centre point of most of his films. His films have received several awards including the National Film Award four times. He is the recipient of Padma Bhushan. In 2005 he was awarded the Dadasaheb Phalke Award. “Always Being Born” is the name of his autobiography. In this interview with Ramin Jahanbegloo, an Iranian-Canadian philosopher and Gandhi scholar, Mrinal Sen speaks about his films. He gave a new sense of direction to the Indian cinema.  Contemporary issues, social conflicts, problems of bureaucracy, corruption, complexity of middleclass urban life are given importance in his films.
Mrinal Sen says that he is a filmmaker by accident. When he was young, he was not at all interested in cinema. He was interested in literature and was a voracious reader and used to visit the National Library in Calcutta. There he happened to read a book on the aesthetics and sociology of cinema. It was an accidental beginning and he fell in love with the aesthetics of cinema. In a few months he read a lot of books on cinema and thought of himself highly educated and started visiting the city theatres and also studied a lot of world famous cinemas through foreign consulates and Calcutta Film Society. Then he began to write on the aesthetics, philosophy and social relevance of cinema. Then he became interested in Soviet cinema and neo-realism of post-war Italian cinema. In 1956 he produced his first Bengali film “Raat Bhor”, but it was a failure.
 His second film is “Nil Akasher Niche”. It is about a Chinese hawker selling ‘cheena silk’. Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India appreciated the film for its political content. It depicted our national struggle against colonial rule and also the democratic world’s fight against fascism.
 There was long debate between Mrinal Sen and Satyajit Ray, another great filmmaker of India on the technical aspect and the trappings of realism in Mrinal Sen’s film “Akash Kusum”. The debate appeared in the Statesman’ published from Kolkata. The debate went on for two months and finally it was nobody’s gain, nobody’s loss. The edited version of the controversy appeared in a special edition at the Cannes Film Festival.
The interviewer asks Mrinal Sen whether he is called “a Calcutta Filmmaker”. Mrinal Sen answers that he learned everything about cinema in the streets of Calcutta. Like any other Bengali, Mrinal Sen also dangerously in love with Calcutta and this great city has been the breeding ground of many of his films. He finds Calcutta buyont, creative, erratic, even hopelessly disengaged where, at times, life gets paralysed because of overpopulation, traffic jams, excess of monsoon or political passion.
 Mrinal Sen describes an Indian filmmaker for the subject matter and form of his films. By nationality he should be an Indian. Whether his films are made in India or abroad, will have plenty of features to familiarise the audience with. They are outfits, food habits, local customs, regional rituals, modes of expression, the language spoken, body language and so on. Only then the audience of India should familiarise with the film, fall in love with until a kind of respect is developed for the circumstances in which the characters live, love and grow or perish.
 Mrinal Sen depicted the complexity of middle class urban life in his three films namely “Ek Din Pratidin, “Kharij” and “Ekdin Achanak”. Ekdin Prithidin tells the story of a decent but poor family in Calcutta. One of the daughters is the only bread winner of the family goes to work daily and comes late deadly tired. One night she does not return home. All the members are anxious, searched every- where but useless. She never returns. The story ends here. The film was a tremendous success. But many working women mobbed Sen and asked him what happened to the girl? Has anything wrong happened to her?. They liked the film, they loved it, and yet they had the question. One evening an elderly, respectable man asked in an angry tone in English “ Mr Sen, it is important that we know.  what happened to the woman”. Sen replied him politely in Bengali “My dear sir, I made this film for you. For you to watch and suffer”. Sen told him that if the gentleman asked Sen again, he too did not know himself and he did not want to. Sen wanted people of Calcutta should suffer the pain of that poor, decent family in the film “Ek din Pratidin” and only then laws will be made by government to prevent such social evils like kidnapping poor working girls by mafias and rowdies in the city.
 In the year 1996 Mrinal Sen made his film “Genesis” within the limitations of a simple parable, which has only four characters. “Wretched are the poor and the meek because they shall not inherit the Earth” is the parable. It is the story of the growth, development, and decay of a civilization. Jean Claude Carriere, the great French screen writer and actor made an interpretation of the film which is very interesting. “Two birds are flying with a fatty worm. A hunter follows them. Someone asks why he doesn’t kill them. The hunter answers that he is waiting for them to fight.” This is the true nature of the exploiter and the rest is history repeating.
Mrinal Sen says that the task of the non-conformists among the film makers is to break the man-made walls of religion, caste, economy classes that the conservatives have preserved through their films like Ek din Pratidin, Calcutta-71 and Bhuvan Shome. Our society is a conformist society full of conservatives and they encourage only conformist film makers who depict popular films with conformist ideas. So the films of non-conformist film makers are utter failures because they question, fight and confront with the social evils.
Mrinal Sen’s Culcutta Trilogy is a political statement and a critical analysis of the contradictions and paradoxes of Indian society. The three films are “Interview”, Calcutta-71 and “Padatik (the foot-soldier)”. Through the film “interview” Mrinal Sen shows us the colonial attitudes and norms that exist in Indian society which are preventing the growth and development. A young Bengali borrows a suit to attend an interview for a job in a company. He doesn’t like wearing the European dress and he prefers Bengali dress. But he is forced to wear a suit. There is a cleaner’s strike but he somehow gets the suit cleaned and goes home. On the way he lost the suit in a massive street demonstration. Finally he goes to the interview but he doesn’t get the job as he was not in suit. In ‘Calcutta-71’, shows a set of different stories on poverty and exploitation. Mrinal Sen shows the dirty fearful face of poverty in this film. Mrinal Sen says that other film makers have always tried to make poverty respectable and dignified. But the real picture of poverty is painful, dirty and horrible. Padatik (the foot-soldier) is the story of a young extremist who escapes from police custody and is sheltered by the party. But he questions the party leadership. He is very loyal to the spirit of the movement and learns that in many situations party leaders make mistakes.


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