‘Mrinal da was an argumentative filmmaker’: Goutam Ghose

The director of classics such as Paar (1984) and Padma Nadir Majhi (1993) said Sen was uncompromising both as a filmmaker and as a human being.

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

Goutam Ghose.

Goutam Ghose. | Photo Credit: V. Sudershan

I miss Mrinal da. He was like a parent for us; a mentor who inspired our generation. Just two weeks before he passed away in December 2019, my wife Nilanjana and I visited him. He was 95, not very mobile, but always happy to receive guests.

After a brief pause in our conversation, he asked me, “What are you doing now?” I told him I had just finished shooting a feature film, Raahgir (The Wayfarers). I told him about my use of space in the film, and that it was meant for the big screen. “Yes, yes,” he said, “there are so many mediums now to show films, but always make movies for the large screen. That is cinema.” Then he asked me “Compromise koro ni to? (I hope you did not compromise?)”

Both as a filmmaker and as a human being, Mrinal da was absolutely uncompromising. He inspired our generation to try and make our own films, with our heart and soul; and to keep our eyes and ears open; and “don’t compromise!”

Filmmaker Goutam Ghose talks about Mrinal Sen | Video Credit: Shot by Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay, Edited by Sambavi Parthasarathy

He refused to watch Raahgir on DVD, saying “it is a movie for the big screen, arrange a screening at Nandan.” With technology, a lot of things in the movie business changed; but “cinematic time and space” did not. This was a favourite subject of his.

Mrinal da saw the 1943 Bengal famine, the 1946 Calcutta killings, the riots, Partition. He was from Faridpur (in Bangladesh), as were my ancestors, but when he came to Kolkata, he never displayed any nostalgia for the old homeland. He was a very objective person, and his thought process was very dialectical. All he had witnessed—the famine, the riots—were reflected in his films. In Baishey Shravana (1960), we can almost feel the famine approaching outside. Years later, he returned to the famine in a sophisticated and altogether different way in Akaler Sandhane (1981).

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

He was a very argumentative filmmaker. In life, too, he loved arguments and discussions. I remember once visiting him, and Geeta di (Geeta Sen, the great actor and Mrinal Sen’s wife) told me, “Goutam is on the phone. I’ll make you tea, make yourself comfortable, this call is going to last for a while. He is arguing with Iqbal Masud (noted film critic and writer) over cinema.” He was always ready and eager to talk and argue over matters that were important to him.

Also Read | Memory, history, and political commentary 

Mrinal da loved sharing ideas with the younger generation. He insisted that we watch Latin American cinema, telling us to note how Latin American filmmakers were portraying their country, and dealing artistically with the contradictions there.

I don’t think it is possible to give a fresh assessment of Mrinal Sen’s works in this day and age. He belonged to a different time, and he portrayed his time and socio-political environment. He was also constantly on the move and looking for something new. A film like Khandhar (1984) is such an emphatic departure from the films he was making just before that. I recently met my old friend Adoor Gopalakrishnan, and all we talked about was Mrinal Sen. Adoor said it was no longer possible to have another filmmaker like him because he belonged to the Cinema Generation.

Mrinal da was like a child. If he liked something, he would immediately be inspired by it in his film. When he fell in love with the works of Michelangelo Antonioni, you would be sure to find some Antonioni influence in his next films: Punascha and Pratinidhi.

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

Mrinal da was always full of life, and showed little interest in the glamorous side of cinema. He would rather indulge in adda. There was also a playful, funny side to him. He was a wonderful human being.

Mrinal da will continue to inspire not just us but the coming generations as well.

As told to Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay.

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