MRINAL SEN will always be remembered for his style of film-making for which he was greatly indebted to European cinema. Sometimes he would overuse a particular style without realising that it did not work for that particular film. Sometimes he would overdo his jump-cut technique. Let me say at the outset that not all his films were good. But those that were great were really great. One of my favourite films of his is Baishey Shravana (1960). Stylistically and thematically, it was one of the best of Mrinal Sen, and among the best films made during that period, I include those made by Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak. It is a simple love story but made with masterful command over style and technology. He did not fall back on any cliches of film-making; what he created was something absolutely new. The film also had a great soundtrack. In fact, any student of film-making wanting to know more about sound technology in film should study Baishey Shravana . The script was also brilliant. In my opinion, it is among the few great love stories made in India. If I were asked to make a list of 10 greatest films made in India, Baishey Shravana would definitely be in that list. I also love Ekdin Pratidin, Kharij, Bhuvan Shome,Oka Oorie Katha, Matira Manisha, Calcutta 71 —Mrinal Sen will always be remembered for these films. Another important thing about him is that he believed in a political ideology and all his films are centred around that ideology. He had the courage to make political films. Before Mrinal Sen hardly any political films were made in India.
He led a simple life. This is something I have personally seen. Even when he was at the height of his profession, he led the life of a simple, middle-class Bengali. This is truly remarkable, and you will not find anyone like that these days. One of the greatest things to learn from Mrinal Sen’s life is his staunch refusal to compromise, particularly in this day and age when compromising is the order of the day. He could have gained a lot by submitting to the demands of the box office, producers or political forces, but he never thought of doing so. This attitude is fast becoming rare, particularly in Bengal where artistes, painters, poets and writers are submitting to the system for paltry gains.
Another thing that struck me about Mrinal da was his love for his wife, Geeta (she passed away in 2017). I remember once in Berlin, we had put up at the same hotel, and I jokingly asked him: “Mrinal da , have you ever fallen in love while travelling alone abroad?” And he answered: “Well, I really want to fall in love, so many beautiful ladies around, but your boudi [sister-in-law] always insists on packing a sewing kit with my luggage. And it is this sewing kit that prevents me from falling in love while travelling alone.” [Laughs] Mrinal da had such a great sense of humour. Both of them faced a lot of hardships. I remember Geeta boudi telling me stories of how hard things were in the early days of their marriage, when she was a struggling actor and he a medical representative. She said: “Most days a meal would mean just some rice, a boiled potato and some lentil. But we were satisfied. He was never sad about our situation.” They were truly a remarkable couple. Their love for each other was something to really admire.
Mrinal da could be your friend any time, irrespective of your age. He could mix with anyone and never think of his great fame. Geeta boudi was also a fantastic lady. At times Mrinal da could get a little out of control, but she would always steady him. He was great fun to be with. He loved to banter and sometimes he would go on talking not giving anyone any chance to get a word in between. Another unique thing about him was that he was never tense about anything. He could sometimes make people tense, but he never got tense himself.
Indian cinema needs someone like Mrinal Sen, and will miss him very much.
As told to Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay