Mrinal Sen: The last of the trinity

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“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”

– Muhammad Ali

Legendary filmmaker Mrinal Sen has described himself in his autobiography “By accident, a maker of films… Good or bad, yes or no, they know me as an iconoclast”. These few words gives an apt and characteristically witty description of this legend’s cinematic philosophy. The death of Mrinal Sen (1923-2018) marks the end of the last of the three stalwart filmmakers of the Golden Age (1950s and 1960s) (two are being Ritwik Ghatak and Satyajit Ray) who earned global repute and redefined the boundaries of Indian cinema. The filmmaker breathed his last at his Kolkata residence on Sunday at 95. The Dadasaheb Phalke and Padma Bhushan recipient had been suffering from age-related ailments for several years. With the passing of Sen, the curtain has fallen on a sublime phase of Indian cinema, when three ‘Bhadralok’ from Bengal created a lasting impact on Indian cinematic aesthetic and sensibility. The troika gave a new direction to the idea of filmmaking in India, with their intellect, spontaneity, knowledge of world cinema and deep understanding of the nuances of the medium that made the world look up in wonder and respect their creations. Their styles were different, but they were united in their humanism. Of the ‘trinity’ Sen is best known for the aesthetic and technical quality of films that generally delved on socio-political issues and often carried a political overtone. Sen, who believed cinema was not merely a medium of entertainment but could be used to enlighten and educate the masses, was an accidental filmmaker. His interest in filmmaking piqued after he stumbled upon a book on film aesthetics.

Born on May 14, 1923, at Faridpur (now in Bangladesh), Sen made his first Bengali film ‘Rat Bhore’ (The Dawn) in 1953, but it was his second directorial effort ‘Neel Akasher Niche’ (Under the Blue Sky) that received acclaim in the country for its lyricism and humane qualities. Neel Akasher Neechey was also the first film to be banned in independent India. In 1969, Sen worked on a small budget provided by the government of India to direct ‘Bhuvan Shome’ (Mr. Shome) — regarded as an important milestone in the new cinema movement in India. His last film ‘Aamaar Bhuvan’ (This, My Land) came in 2002. In the five-decade-long film-making career (1956-2002), Sen directed 27 full-length feature, 14 short films and four documentaries. Besides Bhuvan Shome, Ekdin Pratidin, Akaler Sandhane and Khandhar had earned him the national award for best direction, while Bhuvan Shome, Chorus, Mrigaya and Akaler Sandhane won national award for the best feature film. His trilogy – “Interview”, “Calcutta 71” and “Padatik” – is considered to be a masterpiece for depicting the social and political upheaval in the Kolkata of the ’70s.

A Marxist in belief, who, however, never took the membership of any communist party in India, Sen regaled in breaking age-old stereotypes, highlighting issues such as exploitation and erosion of values. However, social and individual crises of the middle class remained a dominant theme of his films. Sen’s willingness to experiment and to make films in languages new to him, and by experimenting with techniques he, who was nominated to Rajya Sabha on two occasions,  hadn’t yet tried, he showed how he was true to the craft as well as art.

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