Mrinal Sen became a part of the milieu he had depicted in his films. He had direct knowledge of middle- and lower-middle-class existence, and never observed reality from a distance. He moved with the crowd, but was, perhaps, a lonely traveller in his journey towards discovering the meaning and potency of cinema. Being an iconoclast, the master filmmaker used to romanticize a poverty-stricken India which made him a class apart from others. On his birth anniversary, we try to decode his classic works that showed politics beyond our mundane existence.
In ‘Padatik’ we see Kolkata as in the early 1970s, a place filled with chaos and history. All of it lurches into a dark future portrayed in scattered fragments. This film finds Mrinal Sen taking up salient issues amid a period of political turmoil. He begins with, and occasionally goes back to, rolling the newspaper headlines that throughout the film create an essence of the tidal wave of nearing crises and invite either panic or hopelessness. The narrative follows a young political activist (Dhritiman Chatterjee) who escapes a prison van and takes shelter in a posh apartment owned by a sensitive young woman (Simi Garewal).
‘Calcutta 71’ narrates the violence and corruption throughout ages. The film is based on 4 short stories by reputed writers. All the stories are connected or interlinked to give a powerful statement. A straightforward study of the political turmoil of the seventies, ‘Calcutta 71’ documented the agony of the common people. It served moments of high intensity that has been rarely reached in Indian cinema. Mrinal Sen collected the raw footage for this film since 1966. It took five years to make it and the film was released in 1972.
‘Interview’ is believed to be the first installment of Mrinal Sen’s ‘Calcutta Trilogy’, the others being ‘Calcutta 71’ and ‘Padatik’. Ranjit Mullick plays a smart young man in this film. A friend of the family, working in a foreign firm, assures him of a job in his firm. All he has to do is to appear for the interview, dressed in a western style suit. Unfortunately, on the day of the interview a strike by a labour union leaves him without the suit as it was in laundry. The young man borrows a suit but loses it in a fracas. He then attends the interview dressed in the traditional Bengali Dhuti-Panjabi.
This 1984 Bengali classic weaves around a group of friends who goes for a picnic in some rural ruins and finds a mother-daughter duo lives there. The blind and bedridden mother suffers from a delusion that one of the visitors is a young man engaged to the daughter, but in reality it isn’t so. The photographer in the group (played by Naseeruddin Shah) suddenly takes pity on the girl (played by Shabana Azmi) and chooses to play along. However, it throws the group into some dramatic situations and they spend a few dark, brooding days in that ruins. ‘Khandahar’ also won Mrinal Sen a National Film Award for Best Director.
Mrigaaya featured Mithun Charaborty as a tribal man who is known to be one of the best hunters around, even by the British rulers. But he was thrown to gallows after being found guilty of murdering the moneylender who kidnapped his wife. His trial and death later ignites a series of revolt among the tribal people. They stand their ground and confront both the British and their zamindar oppressors. Mithun single-handedly made the film a cult classic by his brilliant acting and won the National Award for Best Actor for ‘Mrigayaa’. The film also won Mrinal Sen a National Award for Best Film.
The legendary Uttpal Dutt essayed out the role of a westernized railway officer who discovers there is a life in offer beyond the bureaucracy he follows during his duck hunting trip to Gujarat. Suhasini Mulay was seen as a young tribal woman who helps Dutt to rediscover the simple joys of life. This Mrinal Sen classic’s other notable highlight was the exceptional cinematography by KK Mahajan which captured the wide-open vistas superbly. Mrinal Sen won two the National Film Awards for Best Director and Best Film for ‘Bhuvan Shome’.