Looking back in wonder
So many times we stand at the crosswords of life, faced with choices, one alluringly wrong and the other heartbreakingly right.bollywood Updated: May 13, 2012 15:21 IST
So many times we stand at the crosswords of life, faced with choices, one alluringly wrong and the other heartbreakingly right. Most often in such situations the head rules the heart, and reason rather than emotions dictate our actions. But even when you send love away, it remains in your heart, a bittersweet memory… It’s been 29 years since Khandhar (1983) opened but I still remember Jamini in the last scene, a fresco frozen in the ruins, watching the man who wanted to make her his own, walk away onto the world beyond, while she remains chained to her ailing, elderly mother in the dilapidated mansion. Both director Mrinal Sen and lead actor Shabana Azmi bagged National Awards for the movie.
But ask Mrinalda about Khandhar or any of the other milestones scattered through a six decade-long career, and the legendary filmmaker tells me that every time he watches any of his films, and he’s made plenty of them over the years, some good, some bad and some, many in Bengali but some in Oriya, Telugu and Hindi-Gujrati-combine, he wishes he could make them again.
I’m stumped, naturally, since this man has bagged eight National Awards and 12 international honours and yes, the Padma Bhushan! Why? “For reasons of my own, all of them are inconclusive. This is precisely why I feel like correcting my own conclusions or to be exact, looking for a conclusion. I consider all my films to be dress rehearsals,” he explains. I’m still stumped!
Shabana Azmi makes more sense even though it’s barely 8 am and her flight to Delhi is on the verge of taking off. She recalls pestering Mrinalda for years to cast her, even threatening to go on a ‘dharna’ outside his home, till finally he came to her with a story narrated over 20 minutes and then made a film that captured the essence of it in two hours.
“Khandhar is a performance with the least number of mistakes. He made me shoot that poignant and difficult last scene first, saying we couldn’t get the location later,” she reminisces. “I was terrified and protested strongly, but after the shot was canned, I felt the deep tragedy of Jamini in the recesses of my being. And it was easier to play the earlier scenes having touched the highest point at the beginning. Jamini was a tragic figure, yet had an innate dignity, and in some ways is so like Mrinalda.”
For me, Mrinalda is a school principal-director who makes me shiver and smile simultaneously with his gruff, affectionate scolding over the landline when I try to wangle an interview out of him.
He eventually succumbs, agreeing to answer a few questions on email. “But make sure you send very few,” he warns. And replies promptly.
Shabana remembers him as someone childlike and garrulous, warm and humourous, sharing a great relationship with his wife Gita, his anchor.
“He’s someone who would never never approach a scene directly, but would go off on a tangent, explaining it to through other stories ‘jo apki mitti ko gili kar deta hai.aur phir ankur photo ta hai (that wets the earth so the seedlings will grow). He would demonstrate how Jamini would cook, holding the vessel and extinguishing the fire. Khandhar made me realise that there’s a shy person inside me I had not known of.”
Tomorrow, Mrinalda turns 90 and I wonder what memories come flooding back as he looks back on a long career? “I look back not in anger nor in love, but with the realisation that 90 years ago, I had an accident — my birth. And all these years I have been looking beyond the horizon for the promised land. My birthday gift? To give you a monosyllabic answer: LOVE.” The love comes from one of his National Award-winning discoveries whom he launched in Mrigaya in 1976 who chortles over the phone, “My God is turning 90 on May 14, my heartfelt ‘pronams’ to the mentor of Mithun Chakraborty.”