The Twitterati with their typical insensitivity have announced demise of ailing Mrinal Sen, the veteran film director, who has just turned 95. He belongs to that rare breed of parallel Bengali cinema when he along with Satyajit Ray, Ritwaik Ghatak took Bengali cinema out of its maudlin sentimentality and created syntax for quality celluloid on the Indian soil. They captured the national imagination till the 1980s and received fulsome global recognition for their outstanding oeuvre, cinematic excellence and feel for indigenous culture.
Ritwiik, the Maverick, started in 1950, Ray in 1955 with a big splash with Pather Panchhai, and Mrinal, in the same year with Raat Bhor, a modest film. The triumvare had immense human compassion, and understood socio economic ethos of Bengal extremely well; it’s famine of 1943, partition in 1947, widespread crippling poverty and Naxalism of the 70s. While Ray arrived in the global filament with his Apu triology, Ghatak received critical acclaim with Ajantrik 1957 and popular approbation with Madhumati in tandem with Bimol Ray, Sen is a late bloomer in terms of success and acclaim.
His first taste of both popular and aesthetic appeal came with Bhuban Shome 1969, set in the rural landscape of Gujurat. The film’s protagonist Utpaul Dutt, essaying the role of a railway big boss is shown fighting an irate buffallo. Rescued by a surreal looking Suhashini, whose husband was caught for minor corruption by Dutt, the film captures the languid beauty of the country side, a confluence between classes, and looks benignly at petty corruption as a law of nature! An undercurrent of naughty nihilism permeates the movie.
Calcutta 71, released in 1972 captures the dirty underbelly of poverty in its most candid and ruthless manifestation. He abdicates the lyricism shown by Ray in his films like Asani Sanket and Pratidwandi. Working in the backdrop of swirling Naxalis, Sen showed how poverty is dehumanising, and bereft of dignity. No other film captures the restlessness of youth as did Calcutta 71 or Interview, a later film Ek Din Prati Din catapulted Sen to dizzy heights. It mocks at conventional morality and unmasked the hypocrisy of the middle class when the bread earning daughter of the house returns home very late, and ruthlessly questioned. The film does not provide any answer. In terms of its aesthetic inscrutability foiling moral platitudes, Ek Din PratiDin towers above the rest of his movies. A befuddled Ray called him to know where the girl was. Mrinal’s response was: I do not know which captures how the master of details differs in his cinematic approach from the subtle Maverick.
Akaler Sandhaney, another masterpiece, captures how a film unit in a village trying to capture the flavor of Bengal famine of 1943 finds no difference between then and now; between reel life and real life, if caught in the throes of extreme poverty. Sen was truly an iconoclast and. ruthlessly candid.
But the film that takes him to the vortex of cinematic appeal is Khandar. Based on a short story written by Premendra Mitra the film capures poignantly the desolation of a bedridden mother and a doting daughter inside a deserted and decrepit mansion. They wait in vain for a young man to come and rescue the girl, played with unusual panache by Shabana Azmi. An unspoken whiff of romance, a wisp of a mirage, a cloying tale turns in to an exquisite gem in the hands of Mrinal. Khandar marks a synthesis of Ray’s Jalsa Ghar, with the poignancy of Ghatak in Meghe Dakha Tara.
Ray, Ghatak and Mrinal belonged to a Bengal where Marxism was tempered by the humanism of Tagore. Sen was unabashedly leftist in his leanings and did not pull any punch while depicting the innards of poverty. But he could be subtle as he demonstrated in Ek DinPrati Din. If Ray was a humanist, Ghatak an iconoclast, Sen was an anarchist. But those who worked with him constantly recount about his loquacity, and unfailing hospitality at home. He could be candid to a fault. When Dilip Kumar greeted him with: Kemon Achen, he said: That’s how it’s not said!
He could be a Gadfly, but a hero to several redoubtable directors like Benbegal, Adoor Gopalkjrishna , Gautam Ghose and Girish Kasaravalli who doted on him. He had a pan India appeal as he directed an Oriya movie, Matira Manisha, a Telugu movie Oka Ori Katha in Telgu and Mrigaya in Hindi, a poignant tale of a tribal in captivity. He remains relevant even in the modern times. The indifference of the middle class, apathy of the governing class and the searing inequality that pervades, makes Mrinal Da a creative masot of all times .His realism with humanism would be permanently treasured.
Prof Misra is a cinema buff
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