The stormy petrel of Indian cinema, the maverick maestro, Mrinal Sen is an exceptional film-maker, known in Bengal as the third figure of the trinity of Indian cinema, with the other two being Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak. Mrinal Sen is considered a modern master of the audio-visual medium.
As a young boy born in a large family, Mrinal lived with his parents, brother and sisters, 11 in all, and other relations. He saw his mother and father support young revolutionaries who had dared to take up arms against the mighty British Crown.
On completing his schooling, Mrinal left Faridpur for Calcutta to join the Scottish Church College. Not remembering or not wanting to remember his childhood, Mrinal vividly recalls the year 1941, when he went to attend poet Rabindranath Tagore’s funeral. He saw a man with a dead child wrapped in a towel in his hands. But the wave of humanity at the funeral made the poor man lose his grip and drop the towel with the wrapped body. The dead body of the child simply disappeared under thousands of onrushing feet. Whenever Mrinal thinks of Tagore’s death anniversary, this incident comes back to his mind.
Mrinal joined the Imperial Library where he spent 10 hours a day religiously drowning in books and imbibing whatever he could find. On discovering Karal Capek’s book entitled Mother, his journey started into the study of cinema and made him associate with IPTA.
Mrinal met a young actress Sunanda Banerjee who helped him direct a film Raatbhore (The Dawn at the End of the Night). It sank without a trace exactly 21 days after its release. Sen was so unhappy with this work that it undermined his confidence. Hemant Kumar, music director and singer asked him to direct a film Neel Akasher Neechay. It was a simple story of a Chinese peddler of small items and a Bengali freedom fighter Basanti, who was married to a successful lawyer. The Chinese found in her the memory of his dead sister. The film was released in February 1959 and has a good review at box-office. The film was screened at Rashtrapati Bhawan and was immensely praised by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
Mrinal made Baishay Suravana with Madhabi Mukherjee in the lead. It was followed by other films. His Akash Kusum captured the viewers’ imagination with its ‘rich-girl-meets-poor-boy’ story. The film was criticised by the doyen of Bengali cinema, Satyajit Ray at which the once-close friends became enemies, while continuing to be civil to each other overtly. Meanwhile Ray fell ill and passed away on 23 April 1992.
Mrinal made Bhuvan Shome which proved a path-breaker and turning point in his career. He suddenly found producers, or ‘money-bankers’ as he called them, gathering at his humble abode with blank cheques to give another Bhuvan Shome. He made Calcutta 71 followed by Padatik which however failed to get him the much needed credit. He saw Ritwik Ghatak fall prey to alcohol and die soon. He made Mrigaya against the backdrop of the 1930s and followed it up with Oka Oorie Katha which he today considers his best film post-Bhuvan Shome decade.
This book traces the career of Mrinal Sen who began his life as an audio-visual technician in Calcutta to become a leading film-maker and whose films reflect the unrest of the era to a more contemplative one conceived with the dilemmas of the Indian middle class. It is he who has heralded the ‘new cinema’ movement in India.
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