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April - May 2005


Film: Mrinal Sen, A Restless Artist

by Nikhil Gajendragadkar

He had not decided to be a filmmaker. But a book about aesthetics of cinema changed his views, mind and also his life. This happened more than 50 years ago. This small incident gave birth to a filmmaker whom India is proud of....

Mrinal Sen was born on 14th May 1923 in Faridpur. (now in Bangladesh). He came to Calcutta (now Kolkatta) to study physics. Those were turbulent times. India’s freedom struggle was reaching its crescendo. Bengal was on the forefront of this struggle. That was also the period when communist ideology was gaining popularity all over the world, particularly among youth. Young Sen was no exception. Though Sen was attracted towards leftist ideology curiously he never became member of the communist party, but his relationship with the party’s cultural wing grew. He came into contact with Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) around this time. But he had to accept a job of medical representative to earn his living. But that was short lived. He returned to Calcutta and joined a film studio as an audio technician. This marked the beginning of his film career.

‘Rat Bhor’ (The Dawn) was Mrinal Sen’s first film, which he also wants to forget. His second feature ‘Neel Akasher Nichey’ created some ripples at least in local Bengal Film goers. But it was his third film ‘Baishey Shravan’ (Wedding Day) (1960) which bought him National and International exposure and some praise, if not accolades.

Mrinal Sen created a sort of history with his film ‘Bhuvan Shom’ Released in 1969, the film heralded an era of ‘Parallel Cinema’ or New Cinema in India. The film was financed by then Film Finance Corporation. This was first such incident; this Parallel financing system led to the phrase parallel Cinema. Though made on the ‘Shoe string’ budget, artistic quality and the treatment of the film left critics the world over awestruck. ‘Bhuvan Shom’ is exploration of politics of class, with expressionist overtones and a dash of sarcasm. This film established Mrinal Sen as a major filmmaker.

‘Interview’ (1970) Calcutta-71 (72) and ‘Padatik’ (73) are called as Calcutta trilogies of Sen. These films are overtly political. They support and put forth leftist ideology nearly on the level of propaganda. But these films disturb us. They were made when India and west Bengal were going through turmoil, politically and socially. Social unrest born out of insecurity is reflected through these films.’Mrigaya’ is another film which comments on politics and feudal system. It is set in the Raj period, but it makes statement on present day socio-political situation. But Sen did not stop there. He shifted his attention to urban middle class family. He explored middle class (Burgoi) mentality their concepts of morality their fears, trauma they go through every day. ‘Ek Din Pratidin’, ‘Kharij’ are prominent films to name a few. This was Sen’s most creative and satisfying phase. During this period his films were widely seen, discussed and won many national and international awards.

Sen refused to be confined to any ‘Form’ or ‘Style’. He delves deep into the psyche of ordinary human being. He experimented with theme storyline also. Akaler Sandhaney (In search of Famine), is a story about a film crew that come to visit a small village to recreate conditions of the 1943 famine in Bengal. The reality they see raises many new questions. Here he contemplates about social problem and film making as well. ‘Khandhar’ is a subtle study of guilt in class relation.
Sen is often compared with his very famous contemporary, Satyajit Ray. But unlike Ray, Sen did not confine himself to Bengal film world (Ray made only one film in Hindi-Shatranj Ke Khiladi). Sen made films in other languages also like ‘Matir Manisha’ (Oriya), ‘Oka Oori Katha’ (Telugu), ‘Mrigaya’ and ‘Khandhar’ (Hindi).

Sen is a non conformist in true sense. You can not pinpoint as his style. He experimented with narrative structure, treatment, form and of course stories and content. His work is often described as influenced by European film makers- from Bresson to Truffaut, to Indian writers like Premchand. He never denied it. Sen seems to be more interested in saying something, making a statement than sticking to a particular style of filmmaking. He made ‘Amar Bhuban’(My Land) in 2002, when he was 79 years old,which shows his restlessness as an artist.

During his long career spanned over five decades, Sen received many awards. He won National Award for Best Film four times. His Films have received awards at all major film festivals, like Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Karlovy Vary, Chicago etc. Many major cities and film festivals showcased his films by arranging ‘retrospectives’. He has received personal honours also. French Government conferred on him highest civilian honour. In 2001 the Russian Government awarded him ‘Order of Friendship’. He was awarded ‘Padma Bhushan’ by Govt. of India. He was member of Rajyasabha from 1998 to 2003.He has written book on cinema as well.-,’Chalachitra Bhut Bartaman Bhabishya’ and ’Views on Cinema’. His autobiography was published last year

Though Sen and His films received critical acclaim in India and outside he is a lesser known celebrity in India. His many masterpieces are not released on commercial basis in many parts of India. ‘Phalke award’ was long overdue. Film lovers and Sen admirers all over India are more than pleased with the ‘better late’ announcement.

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