As a young man, Mrinal Sen had no fierce passion for cinema and he was not even a habitual cinegoer. “My foray into films was purely accidental,” he once told this writer in between cups of black tea at his south Kolkata residence in Beltala area.

One day in the 1950s, Sen came across Rudolf Arnheim’s book “Film” in the catalogue room of the then Imperial Library. It was a book on the aesthetics of cinema, on its philosophy and socio-political relevance. Well, as they say, rest is history.

Loved and hated equally for projecting his views with unabashed candour, Mrinal Sen with his strong Marxist leanings, rewrote the language of films and in the course of that journey won awards in Cannes, Berlin and everywhere else. Besides Bengali and Hindi, he also made films in Oriya and Telugu.

At the end though, Sen was a spent force and his last few films were better not made I strongly felt. His Dimple Kapadia starrer Antareen was also not a film I liked though he told me in an interview: “I was overcome with terrible sense of emptiness for a long time benumbing my creativity. The alienation I experienced led to a film like Antareen (where two alienated stangers- Dimple Kapadia and Anjan Dutta- one night starts talking over the phone as their lives start revolving around the telephonic conversation without ever meeting)”.

READ | Mrinal Sen: The extraordinary chronicler of middle class life

Born on 14 May 1923, in Faridpur, (now in Bangladesh), Sen came to Kolkata later and studied physics. Soon he was involved with the cultural wing of the Communist party and got associated with the Indian Peoples Theatre Association.

Mrinal Sen made his first feature film in 1953 (a disastrous debut as he himself told me), but it was his second film Neel Akasher Nichey(Under the Blue Sky), which brought him to limelight.

Set in the background of the ultimate rising against the British rule in Kolkata, the film told the story of an immigrant Chinese wage worker, Wang Lu, and the bond he developed with a housewife (Kali Banerjee and Manju Dey essaying the roles respectively) who was also involved in the freedom struggle of India.

However, Neel Akasher Nichey is still not a signature film of Sen who scripted a new language of cinema in the following years and decades to register his protest against an unforgiving capitalist society.

His third film, Baishey Shravan(Wedding Day, 1960) first earned him the recognition as a filmmaker of international repute and skills.

What brought Sen more fame and controversy was his Calcutta Trilogy depicting the Naxalite Movement of the late 60s and early 70s with the films- Interview, Calcutta 71 and Padatik (The Guerrilla Fighter).

READ | Mrinal Sen — the ‘accidental filmmaker’

In the last film of the series- Padatik- he actually reassessed the movement that rocked Bengal and created ripples across India. A voyeur with camera Sen imprisoned on celluloid real life events taking place in Kolkata in the 70s- the political rallies and the police baton-charge and the protests every day on the streets. His films were a telling commentary of the times Bengal experienced.

However, with time he learnt to become more cautious about his political leanings. “I was at that. point of time trying to point my finger at the enemy outside,” he said of the films.

He in the second half of 70s started making film which were marked departure from the political films. He concentrated more on soul searching and targetted the enemy within ourselves. This was somewhat reflected in Hindi film Mrigaya(1976 in which Mithun Chakraborty made his debut). But his introspective films started with Ek Din Pratidin (And Quiet Rolls the Dawn) in 1978.

This was a film of an unmarried working girl, a sole bread earner of a family who does not return one night, setting off a chain of introspective reactions from her rather selfish family members.

The process of introspection continued with films like Shabana Azmi starrer Khandhar (The Ruins, 1982) and earlier Smita Patil-Srila Majumdar starrer Akaler Sandhane (In Search of Famine, 1980). Sen, a Padma Bhushan and Dada Saheb Phalke awardee, paved the way for parallel cinema in India along with Satyajit Ray and Ritwick Ghatak, but he would also be self-criitcal.

“Deep in my heart I know my areas of mediocrity. And the professor in the film Ek Din Achanak who walks out of his family on a stormy day never to return, I too feel that the saddest thing in life is that we live only one life. Today I feel like starting all over again,” he would tell me in one interview, leaving me surprised.

FEATURE FILMS 

  • Raat Bhore (The Dawn) (1955)
  • Neel Akasher Neechey (Under the Blue Sky) (1959)
  • Baishey Shravana (Wedding Day) (1960)
  • Punascha (Over Again) (1961)
  • Abasheshe (And at Last) (1963)
  • Pratinidhi (The Representative) (1964)
  • Akash Kusum (Up in the Clouds) (1965)
  • Matira Manisha (Man of the Soil) (Odia film) (1966)
  • Bhuvan Shome (Mr. Bhuvan Shome) (1969)
  • Interview (1971)
  • Ek Adhuri Kahani (An Unfinished Story) (1971)
  • Calcutta 71 (1972)
  • Padatik (The Guerilla Fighter) (1973)
  • Chorus (1974)
  • Mrigayaa (The Royal Hunt) (1976)
  • Oka Oori Katha (The Outsiders) (1977)
  • Parasuram (The Man with the Axe) (1978)
  • Ek Din Pratidin (And Quiet Rolls the Dawn) (1979)
  • Akaler Sandhane (In Search of Famine) (1980)
  • Chalchitra (The Kaleidoscope) (1981)
  • Kharij (The Case Is Closed) (1982)
  • Khandhar (The Ruins) (1983)
  • Genesis (1986)
  • Ek Din Achanak (Suddenly, One Day) (1989)
  • Mahaprithibi (World Within, World Without) (1991)
  • Antareen (The Confined) (1993)
  • Aamaar Bhuvan (This, My Land) (2002)

 

SHORT FILMS

  • Ichhapuran (The Wish Fulfillment) (1970)
  • Tasveer Apni Apni (Portrait of an Average Man) (1984)
  • Aparajit (Unvanquished) (1986-87)
  • Kabhi Door Kabhi Paas (Sometimes Far, Sometimes Near) (1986-87)
  • Swamvar (The Courtship) (1986- 87)
  • Aina (The Mirror) (1986-87)
  • Ravivar (Sunday) (1986-87)
  • Aajkaal (These Days) (1986-87)
  • Do Bahene (Two Sisters) (1986-87)
  • Jit (Win) (1986- 87)
  • Saalgira (Anniversary) (1986-87)
  • Shawl (1986-87)
  • Ajnabi (The Stranger) (1986-87)
  • Das Saal Baad (Ten Years Later) (1986-87)

 

DOCUMENTARIES

  • Moving Perspectives (1967)
  • Tripura Prasanga (1982)
  • City Life – Calcutta My El Dorado (1989)
  • And the Show Goes On – Indian Chapter (1999)