‘Mrinal Sen’s stark images transformed me’: Shoojit Sircar

The director of Vicky DonorMadras CaféPiku, and Sardar Udham says he draws inspiration from Sen’s presentation of realism.

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

Shoojit Sircar

Shoojit Sircar | Photo Credit: By special arrangement

Mrinal Sen put India’s new wave cinema on the world map. If Satyajit Ray is one of my bibles of filmmaking, I draw inspiration from Mrinal Sen’s presentation of realism. His films are not at all poetic; they are harsh and unforgiving. Ritwik Ghatak also presented realism, but Sen’s realism was rougher, more jagged. You can smell the stench of death and disease in his scenes of hospitals and morgues.

I grew up in Delhi, and amidst the onslaught of Bollywood productions and Bengali potboilers, Mrinal Sen’s stark images and characters completely transformed me. Sen never made any attempt to hide his politics. The uninhibited display of his politics in his movies made it impossible to walk away. It was so in your face that you could not escape from it. Sen is up there with the greatest.

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

I always wanted to meet him, but I was scared of him. I watched his films with fear too. He presented society in that neo-realist style that can really shake you; that kind of intensity can be terrifying. But it also compelled me to keep going back to his movies. I remember I could not sleep after watching Ek Din Pratidin (1979). It was the first Sen movie I saw, and then I made it a point to watch everything he made. The stark reality in Pink was inspired by Ek Din Pratidin.

Films like Khandhar (1984), Ek Din Achanak (1989) Ek Din PratidinInterview (1971), Calcutta ’71 (1972), were all so revolutionary for their times. They spoke of a certain kind of politics and at the same time presented us with the director’s personality and political upbringing. To me, Sen’s personality was as important as his films. His strong belief in socialism, his Marxist leanings were reflected in his films and in his lifestyle. Yet, when we see the films today, they seem as modern now as they were 40-50 years ago. One thing I learnt from both Mrinal Sen and Satyajit Ray was to try and not repeat myself in my films. While Sen remained socially relevant, he never repeated himself.

Also Read | Memory, history, and political commentary 

I believe it is very important for every generation to be aware of the works of the great masters; to see them, study them, discuss them, learn from them. As filmmakers, we need to constantly evaluate their work and personalities.

Today, we are under so much external pressure and box office demands, but Sen never allowed those factors to influence him. He held to his beliefs and principles and kept making films according to them. I see his films as a kind of debate—a dialogue he had with himself that he brought to the screen.

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

Next to someone like Mrinal Sen, I am a mediocre filmmaker at best. I work very well with a lot of compromises, but next to these masters, I am nobody. I see myself as their student, taking lessons from their films. If he were alive today, I would love to have just sat and listened to him. I can only compare it with the experience of listening to Pandit Ravi Shankar playing the sitar—I would just sit and absorb. We should study them and go back to our drawing board and re-examine what we are doing.

We are fortunate to have had these filmmakers in our culture and as our “fathers”.

As told to Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay.

More stories from this issue

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment