The last few hours of 2018 have cast a pall of gloom on Bengal’s cinephiles as Mrinal Sen, the last of the troika of great filmmakers with Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak, passed away today, aged 95, of cardiac respiratory failure at his home in Bhawanipore.
One of the more revered Indian filmmakers across the globe and a recipient of multiple honours, including the Padma Bhushan, the Dadasaheb Phalke award and 16 National awards, Mrinal Sen showed distinctive courage that remains unparalleled while making films.
Be it making overtly political statements in his work and staying true to them in personal life or continuously challenging his own craft of filmmaking and opening the door to innovations, Mrinal Sen was an inspiration who has been studied continuously by later generations of filmmakers and artistes.
“I was among the privileged few artistes in this industry [today] who made his debut with Mrinal Sen,” said grieving theatre personality and film actor Kaushik Sen. “I made my debut in Ek Din Pratidin (1979). I was in class V then. Biplab Chattopadhyay took me to his house. He used to live near Deshapriya Park. He loved my work and Geeta Sen [Mrinal Sen’s wife] played my mother in the film.”
The next year, Kaushik Sen appeared in Mrinal Sen’s Chaalchitra (1981). “In 2002, when I had grown up, I got the opportunity to play the lead in his Aamaar Bhuvan, which was Mrinal Babu’s last film. I think it is quite uncanny and significant that I made my debut with him and was also part of his last film,” he said.
“It is quite difficult to sum up my thoughts about him in a few minutes,” Sen continued. “He was a master and the father of New Wave cinema and political cinema.”
Kaushik Sen said one of the legendary director’s greatest contributions was to begin the trend of getting funding from the National Film Development Corporation. “That it is possible to take financial support from the government and make a profit was first proved by Mrinal Babu through Bhuvan Shome (1969),” he said. “The film was a super hit and Mrinal Babu could return the entire amount to the government. From then on, NFDC decided to produce more films. Mrinal Babu had an immense contribution in expanding the New Wave cinema and nurturing new ideas and creative aspirants not only in Bengali cinema but also in Indian cinema.”
Kaushik Sen said he had hardly had any idea about cinema when he acted in Ek Din Pratidin. Their friendship formed much later on. “Before Aamar Bhuvan, he would regularly watch me doing theatre,” he recalled. “We used to have endless discussions on theatre and many other things. I treasure all those memories. I have taken a lot from his suggestions and observations. It is the biggest shock since Geeta Jyethi’s [Geeta Sen’s] death. The family is not there anymore. It is a strange feeling of emptiness altogether.”
“I have no words to express my shock and sorrow,” said filmmaker Sandip Ray, who often saw Mrinal Sen when the latter visited his father Satyajit Ray. “I met him when he came to our house on several occasions, though I did not have many interactions with him.”
Ray continued, “This has been a bad year indeed. It is quiet upsetting that we have lost the third pillar of our cinema. It was still a comforting feeling that he was among us despite not making films anymore.”
Ray said he has been constantly remembering Sen’s Matira Manisha (1966, Oriya), Calcutta 71 (1971), Ek Din Pratidin (1979) and Khandhar (1984) today. Ray was greatly fascinated by the look that Sen used to lend to his films.
Srijit Mukherji, one of the leading filmmakers of the current generation, said Sen’s death had brought an era to an end. “The last of the truly international giants of Indian cinema has left us,” he said. “His was the voice of dissent, of irreverence against both exploitative social structures and conventional cinematic norms.”
On being inspired by Mrinal Sen’s craft, he said, “I learnt a lot about the film-within-a-film structure from his iconic Akaler Sandhane (1980) and referred to that while making Autograph (2010).”
In an interaction with the ABP Ananda channel, veteran actor Dhritiman Chatterjee said, “He was the North Star in my life. I can go on talking about his films. Working with him were the best moments of my life.”
Chatterjee fondly remembers shooting for Padatik (1973) and spending many days together with Mrinal Sen while shooting for Akaler Sandhane in villages.
“I last met him two or three days after his last birthday [in May],” the actor said. “He was quite ill, but he could still recognize me and had a chat. I told him I was doing a film. He was silent for a few minutes, then he suddenly asked, ‘Who is the cameraman?’ Honestly, I felt a chill run down my spine.”
Reacting to Sen’s demise, Chatterjee said, “All I can say is the void in our lives is gradually increasing with the demise of these kind of people. The people we could depend on are leaving us one by one.”
Mamata Shankar, daughter of the great dancer Uday Shankar and one of Mrinal Sen’s favourite actresses whom he cast in Mrigayaa (1976), Oka Oori Katha (1977), Ek Din Pratidin (1979) and Kharij (1982) broke down while talking about the legend.
“I wish Mrinalda rest in similar peace and comfort as he once provided us,” she said. “I can never thank him enough. Today whatever identity I have in the industry is because of him. I feel like I have lost my father for the second time today.”
Mamata Shankar also said Sen would not have liked to see her in tears as he was a jolly person always in a jovial mood. “Now we claim we are making bold films,” she remarked. “I don’t know what courage we are showing. The courage these filmmakers showed was unparalleled. They never thought about profit or box office. Their only motto was to honestly convey their ideas. He was an honest and brave filmmaker!”