A Tribute to Legendary Film-Maker Mrinal Sen

Mrinal Sen’s sharp eye for realism and his ability to tell the tale of human sufferings on celluloid made him one of the most significant voices of new age parallel cinema in India.

Mrinal Sen was the legendry filmmaker who had the immense creative genius to portray social realities on celluloid and leave an impression on the viewer’s mind while compelling her to think and raise some difficult questions.  Sen was also one of the key founders of the New Cinema Movement. While his films are widely revered and he is appreciated as being a film director who renewed India’s cinema scene and brought to it an altogether new life, he is also criticized for making films that are grey, melancholic and centred on human suffering. He was considered one of the world’s greatest 20th century film makers and gave us a series of provocative films. He is known as one of the pioneers of the New Cinema Movement that was heralded in Bengal but gradually had an impact on Indian cinema in general. He received both national and international accolades for his cinema but was also disliked by many for his stringent principles and portrayal of human suffering in his films.  In his celluloid career that last over six decades, Sen composed nearly thirty films and documentaries.

Sen was born on 14th May 1923 in contemporary Bangladesh and grew up aspiring to be a physicist. But perhaps destiny had reserved other plans for him, he became keen in film-making and drew a great deal of inspirations from legendary artists like Charlie Chaplin. While in college, he joined the cultural wing of the CPI and was introduced to the world of cinema and theatre in an exhaustive way. It was during these initial years that he came across an inspiring book on cinema and aesthetics when his interest in cinema was truly piqued. To make the two ends meet and to secure a livlihood, Sen took up the job of a medical representative outside Kolkata. However his keen interest in making films pulled him back to Kolkata where he began to pursue his dream of making films.

A scene from Neel Akasher Neechey

His first two films were Raat Bhore(1955)and Neel Akasher Neechey(1958)and none of them could do well. The latter of his films was also to be the first to be banned in independent India for being deeply political. His third film Baishey Shrabon(1960) put him firmly on the international map. The story is set during the Bengal famine that took place during World War II. The film tells the story of a poor couple that tries to survive despite the odds and documents the upheaval in their relationship as they face one of the worst human calamities that also brings about their dark sides. The film was the first of his creations to be sent to the London Film Festival.  When in 1969, Bhuvan Shome had released it made people realise that here was a director who would make the world take note of Indian cinema in a major way and his artistic genius would soon become a force that a large number of people would begin to reckon with. This film made Sen win three national awards for best director, best actor and best film. The film was made on a very tight budget and told the story of a young railway officer who is very lonely inside. He meets a young woman while on a hunting trip who teaches him a lot about life.


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Mrinal Sen (left) with Satyajit Ray (right) | Photo Credit: The Hindu Archives

 Sen is known for his sharp observation and his ability to portray the human pathology with criticality on celluloid. He heralded the parallel cinema movement along with revered film makers Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak. The three directors made some iconic films and shared a relationship of healthy competition. Years after they have passed away, lovers of quality cinema continue to watch and debate their films. The dark, political and often depressing stories that Sen told continue to be loved and admired for their careful film-making craft, detailed observations and keen eye for realism.  The legendry film maker passed away on 30th December,2018 but he will forever continue to live through his powerful films.

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