‘To everyone Mrinal Sen was bondhu (friend)‘: Avik Mukhopadhyay

Published : Aug 10, 2023 11:00 IST - 3 MINS READ

Avik Mukhopadhyay.

Avik Mukhopadhyay. | Photo Credit: By special arrangement

The famed cinematographer, who worked with the master in his last film Aamaar Bhuvan (2002), says Sen never stopped trying to break the stereotype.

I found a freedom of expression in Mrinal Sen’s films that I have not felt in the works of any other director. He liked to experiment and never stopped trying to break the stereotype.

I never had a meeting in the traditional sense with Mrinal da over Aamaar Bhuvan. What happened was adda—unstructured, enlightened, informal discussions. He would talk on a wide range of subjects—places he went to, his association with Godard—then he would return to the film. In one such adda, he asked me, “What do you think of Rembrandt?” I said, “I love the cinematic quality in his paintings, his powerful use of light.” He said he wanted me to bring a Rembrandt-like aura.

Also Read | From revolution to realism, the multifaceted legacy of Mrinal Sen

Once, while shooting in a brick kiln, he said he wanted a visual angle similar to one used by [Sergei] Eisenstein. I asked Mrinal da which particular movie he was thinking of, and he said Que Viva Mexico. Indeed, there was a graphic quality to the brick kiln reminiscent of Eisenstein. In one scene of a ride on a village road, he wanted to show it through a child’s perception. A very interesting kind of realism was created —a sort of fantastic realism.

Mrinal da hardly ever had a script in his hand. There was a dialogue script no doubt, but all the ideas were in his head. Sequences were often born from the way the actors behaved or reacted with each other in a particular environment. I loved his non-classical style. It was not uncommon in European cinema, and I believe Mrinalda was influenced by this, and by Latin American cinema. When Mrinal da started making films, most filmmakers were committed to the idea of realism. Mrinal da probably realised that what he wanted to express could not be achieved by realism alone. He was among the first Indian filmmakers to use freeze frames, as Truffaut had done in The400 Blows (1959).

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He was a very honest filmmaker: his lifestyle is almost reflected in his films; one can see how Sen saw life. To everyone, even to his son, he was bondhu (friend). He treated everyone as a friend and an equal. His process of filmmaking was a group effort, almost like a football team working in perfect coordination. He never interfered in my work.

Mrinal da understood the technicalities of filmmaking, which made the job easier for me as the cinematographer. In cinema aesthetics and technology are inseparable. He had an inquisitive mind and kept abreast of new technology. There is a youthfulness about his films. If you watched one without knowing he has directed it, you would probably think it was made by a young man.

Also Read | From Paradise Café to political cinema: Mrinal Sen’s radical journey

One day, a bicycle was brought to the shoot, and Mrinal da started cycling about. This youthful energy permeated his films—in the restless manner in which the camera would move at times, for instance. I was drawn to this aspect of his character.

He understood production very well, and knew how to make a film on a small budget. He was never late for lunch breaks, and personally oversaw what everyone was eating. He inspired filmmakers not just in terms of cinema, but also in how to behave on the sets.

As told to Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay.

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