Why Mrinal Sen is India's most important filmmaker ever

  • Anindita Acharya, Hindustan Times, Kolkata
  • Updated: May 14, 2015 13:57 IST

Mrinal Sen, one of the pioneers of Indian cinema, turns 92 on May 14 (he was born on May 14, 1923). His films continue to inspire generations of directors and actors. From the middle-class social crisis in Ek Din Pratidin, to the social milieu in Kharij, the famine of 1943 in Akaler Sandhane, to the political and social unrest in Interview, Calcutta 71, Padatik and Bhuvan Shome, Mrinal Sen's films initiated the new cinema movement in India. The living legend made his last film Aamaar Bhuvan in 2002. Through Sen, Indian cinema got actors such as Mithun Chakraborty, Anjan Dutt, Mamata Shankar, Sreela Majumdar and Madhabi Mukherjee to name a few. Also, Smita Patil, Shabana Azmi, Naseeruddin Shah and Om Puri have worked in several of Sen's films.

Actor-danseuse Mamata Shankar, the daughter of legendary dancer Uday Shankar, says she is 'indebted to Mrinal da' for introducing her to the world of light, camera and action in Mrigayaa in 1976. Mithun Chakraborty, who went onto become one of the leading men of Bollywood, too, made his debut with Sen's Mrigayaa. His debut film bagged him the National Award for best actor. Apart from winning the National Award for best feature film, Mrigayaa was also nominated for the Golden Prize at the 10th Moscow International Film Festival in 1977.

Sen was also honoured with the Order of Friendship by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2000.

Shankar says that she plans to visit Sen's home today in the evening. "I visit him often. Mrinal da and Gita boudi are like family. Whenever I feel sad I visit them and share my feelings. Anjan, Gautam, Sreela and I often plead him to make more films. We look up to him. Whatever I've achieved today is because of him. I still can't believe it's been 40 years since I shot Mrigayaa with him in 1975," says the actress of Ek Din Pratidin and Kharij.

The Dadasaheb Phalke Awardee never shied away from expressing his political views through his films. In films such as Interview (which introduced actor Ranjit Mullick), Calcutta 71, Padatik and Chorus - these views clearly came cross on the big screen.

Anjan Dutt, who made his debut with Sen's Chalchitra (1981), says, "He introduced me to films. He is an easy person to work with. I tried to act differently and he always encouraged me. He is unwell now and bedridden. I don't talk about cinema now. We chat and joke about the past days. He came to watch my film Dutta vs Dutta (2012) at the mixing studio. We share a relationship which is simply not restricted to cinema," says Dutt, who worked in Sen's films such as Kharij, Ek Din Achanak and Antareen.

For Shankar, Sen's honesty and courage are reflected in his films. "Recently, Doordarshan did a documentary on him. I was watching a few of his films again. He was brutally honest in his work and created awareness through his films. I remember, after watching Kharij (1982) people became aware and started noting down the address of the maidservants before employing them," says Shankar, who also says that the multiple National Award-winning filmmaker called her up and praised her after watching her performance in Rituparno Ghosh's Abohoman (2010).

Shankar, who has also worked with Satyajit Ray, Rituparno Ghosh, Buddhadev Dasgupta and Gautam Ghosh, says that Sen has never compromised on his work. "As far as I can remember, after Mrigayaa, Mrinal da got an offer to make another film with Dharmendra and Hema Malini with a budget of ? 75 lakh. But he never compromised," she recalls.

For Sreela Majumdar, who debuted in Sen's film Parasuram (1978), the filmmaker is like her father, brother and friend. "He is extremely child-like and I could discuss a lot of things with him. He made Ek Din Pratidin years ago, yet the subject is still relevant. We still face the same anxiety when a daughter doesn't return home at night," says the actress, who has worked in several of Sen's films.

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