In this special episode, we salute the memory of Mrinal Sen on the occasion of his birth anniversary. The article touches on Sen’s filmmaking and discusses his ability to make his audience think about the dark aspect of society.
Indian Cinema has seen a lot of drama over the past few years. Indu Sarkar, Padmaavat, Kashmir files, and the latest being Kerala Story. But the first ever movie by an Indian filmmaker to be banned in India was Neel Akasher Neechay way back in 1959, It was banned for two months for overt controversies of sexual harassment overtones; it showed the troubles faced by an immigrant Chinese wage laborer in the 1930s Calcutta. This was a move directed by Mrinal Sen.
Mrinal Sen whose birth anniversary we celebrate today, was known for creating thought-provoking movies that delved into the challenging and often unpleasant aspects of Indian society. His films were impactful and aimed to shed light on the realities of life that are often ignored or overlooked.
But for us who are passionate about aesthetic films watching Sen is a must. His first two films did not do well. It was his third film Baishey Srabon that found international repute. The film was based against the backdrop of World War II, a time when West Bengal was facing one of its worst famines.
The storyline revolved around a destitute couple who were struggling to survive without sufficient food. It showcased how the couple’s relationship transformed as they navigated through various challenges and encountered the harsh realities of human nature in the midst of a calamity. This particular film was significant as it was the first movie by Mrinal Sen to be submitted to an international film festival, specifically the London Film Festival.
In 1969 Sen made Bhuvan Shome on a shoestring budget. But the outcome was three national awards, including best director, best actor for Utpal Dutta, and best film. The film managed to make a significant impact. Starring a young Utpal Dutt and Suhasini Mulay, the storyline revolved around a successful yet lonely railway officer who unexpectedly discovers a new perspective on hunting and life through a chance encounter with a young woman during a hunting trip.
Mrinal Sen often faced criticism for making dark, depressing, deeply political, and abrupt films. In an interview, he opined “I don’t agree with Godard when he says that the cinema is a gun. That is too romantic an expression. You can’t topple a government or a system by making one ‘Potemkin’. You can’t do that with ten ‘Potemkins’. All you can do is create an environment in which you can discuss a society that is growing undemocratic, fascistic.”
Similar to many other Bengali filmmakers, Mrinal Sen also paid homage to the city of Calcutta in a number of his films. Notably, he created a renowned Calcutta trilogy consisting of Interview (1971), Calcutta 71 (1972), and Padatik (1973), which are regarded as some of the most remarkable films ever made about the city. Unlike other films that merely focus on the city’s conventional characteristics, these movies presented the audience with a fresh perspective on the real issues affecting the “City of Joy”, such as poverty, famine, and unemployment, encouraging viewers to ponder on these problems.
Born on the 14th of May 1923, his life came to an end on 30th December 2018 at the age of 95. During the shoot of his last film Amar Bhuvan in 2002, Sen said: “After I make a film, I feel like collapsing but then I wake up again”. Mrinal Sen lives on through his movies.