Mrinal Sen’s death marks the end of Golden Age of Indian cinema’s stalwart filmmakers
The death of Mrinal Sen (1923-2018) marks the end of the last of the stalwart filmmakers of the Golden Age (1950s and 1960s) who earned global repute and redefined the boundaries of Indian cinema. The filmmaker breathed his last at his Kolkata residence on Sunday.The Dadasaheb Phalke and Padma Bhushan recipient had been suffering from age-related ailments for several years.
A part of the famous trio of Bengali master auteurs that by large represented Indian New Wave cinema between 1950s and the 1970s – the two other being Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak – Sen is best known for the aesthetic and technical quality of films that generally delved on socio-political issues and often carried a political overtone.
Such landmark films as Baishe Sraban (Bengali, 1960), Bhuban Shome (Hindi, 1969), Mrigaya (Hindi, 1976), Oka Oori Katha (Tamil, 1977), Akaler Sandhane (Bengali, 1980), Kharij (Bengali, 1982) and Khandahar (Hindi, 1983) earned him several national awards as well as awards from the prestigious Venice Film Festival, Cannes Film Festival, Berlin International Film Festival, Montreal World Film Festival, Moscow International Film Festival, Karlovy Vary Film Festival, Chicago International Film Festival and Carthage Film Festival.
Daringly experimental in his story-telling techniques, Sen developed a language of his own. He was a rebel who risked alienating the larger audience by almost shunning the refinement of popular cinema -- most of his films were commercial flops -- and ended up winning accolades from critics around the world.
Among a wide range of techniques that made his language unique are point-of-view shots, changing pace of camera, freezes, jumpcut, blackouts and montage. He even experimented with soundtrack, punctuating loud noise of Indian classical instruments with abrupt silence.
Like Ray and Ghatak, Sen, too, made his directorial debut in mid-1950s – with Raat Bhore in 1956 – but it was not until his second film Neel Akasher Nichey that he started earning recognition. This 1959 film was the first cinema in Independent India to be banned by the government (for two months) for its overt political messages.
Sen’s 1960 release, Baishey Shraban, gave him international exposure when it was screened in the London Film Festival. However, it was his 1969 release, Bhuvan Shome -- that he himself produced -- which launched him as a major Indian filmmaker in the global scene.
Over the next few years – those were the turbulent days of the first Maoist upsurge that had taken the city of Kolkata by a storm – Sen made some overtly political films.
By the time German filmmaker Reinhard Hauff made his 1984 documentary ‘Ten Days in Calcutta -- a Portrait of Mrinal Sen’, he had made his mark as among the most influential Indian filmmakers of all time.
A lifelong Leftwing intellectual, Sen was empathetic towards the working class people. However, social and individual crises of the middle class remained a dominant theme of his films. Sen himself said in several interviews that he understood and related to best with the middle class and that was why he always preferred telling the stories of the middle class people. However, his films gradually transformed from polemical to poetic as he chose to keep his films open-ended.
In a film making career spanning over five decades (1956-2002), Sen directed 27 full-length feature, 14 short films and four documentaries. Bhuvan Shome, Ekdin Pratidin, Akaler Sandhane and Khandhar had earned him the national award for best direction, while Bhuvan Shome, Chorus, Mrigaya and Akaler Sandhane won national award for the best feature film.
Between 1997 and 2003, he had served as a nominated member of the Rajya Sabha.