Interview with Kunal Sen on his guide Bondhu about his filmmaker father Mrinal Sen

Bengali director Mrinal Sen (extreme right) with actor Dimple Kapadia (centre) on the sets of his 1993 film ‘Antareen’.

Bengali director Mrinal Sen (excessive proper) with actor Dimple Kapadia (centre) on the units of his 1993 movie ‘Antareen’.
| Picture Credit score: Particular Association

Bondhu (Seagull, 2023) is Kunal Sen’s first guide of fiction. ‘Bondhu’ in Bengali means pal. That’s how Kunal addressed his father, famend filmmaker Mrinal Sen, who would have turned 100 this yr. In a riveting debut, the Chicago-based writer provides an intimate portrait of his father at dwelling and on the earth. Edited excerpts from a dialog:

Mrinal Sen started with IPTA (Indian Folks’s Theatre Affiliation). Why or how did he veer in direction of cinema?

His curiosity in cinema was largely unintended. He was a voracious reader in his scholar days. Someday he got here throughout a guide on movie aesthetics and was instantly captivated with the thought of creating movies.

Most of his buddies from that interval — Ritwik Ghatak, Salil Chowdhury, amongst others — got here to the identical conclusion and have been itching to leap into it however didn’t have the know-how, connections, or means to make it occur. In addition they shared a standard ideology: that of creating the world a fairer and higher place to dwell, and believed movies could possibly be a technique to speak about such concepts.

Would you say that your father made movies primarily to say his leftist leanings?

No, I’d not characterise it that approach. First, politics for that technology had little to do with energy and management, and was extra of an idealised perspective of creating the world a greater place. Solely within the late 60s and early 70s did his movies turn out to be explicitly political and carry a leftist message. After that part, most of his movies nonetheless retained a political perspective, however weren’t about politics. The one widespread thread all through his profession was his responsiveness to time and a deep want to experiment thematically and formally.

Was he disillusioned with the ideology in some unspecified time in the future? You’ve written within the guide that he was reasonably essential of Russia after a go to.

His leftist convictions have been deep however by no means partisan. He refused to turn out to be a member of the Communist Celebration just because he didn’t just like the tendency of the occasion to discourage and disallow any contrarian considering. Due to this fact, whereas he believed within the primary tenets of Marxism, he by no means accepted the rigidity of any political ideology. So, when he visited the Soviet Union for the primary time within the mid-60s, he was disillusioned by the coercive nature of its society. Nonetheless, it didn’t shake his conviction within the Left ideology, however solely in the way it manifested itself in particular political actions.

Mrinal Sen and Kunal Sen in Cannes, 2010.

Mrinal Sen and Kunal Sen in Cannes, 2010.

The guide doesn’t paint Sen as a hero. You say that in private life, he was self-centred, cherished consideration and solely cared for what mattered to him although he by no means imposed his concepts on you. Did this impression his relationship together with his friends?

Are there any actual heroes? I simply wished to be truthful and never see him by the lens of a fan. I’ve been lucky to have seen many extraordinarily profitable folks at shut quarters, and if there’s one widespread trait amongst them, it’s their self-focused personalities. I now consider that is an important attribute of being very profitable. With out that focus and conviction, it’s onerous to realize what they will obtain. I don’t assume this facet of him affected his relationship together with his friends. Every lived in their very own bubble, and at some stage, they understood one another.

You additionally write concerning the distinctive Bengali propensity to create camps by pitting one in opposition to the opposite. Objectively talking, what makes your father’s cinema totally different from that of his contemporaries comparable to Ray and Ghatak?

Mrinal Sen (left) and Satyajit Ray.

Mrinal Sen (left) and Satyajit Ray.

The interpersonal relationship between the three of them may have been a lot better with out the interference of the folks surrounding them. I strongly consider every of them may have benefited in the event that they spoke extra typically. It’s exceptional that all of them lived in the identical metropolis on the similar time, and but couldn’t straight profit from it.

There are a few methods my father’s movies have been totally different from Ray’s and Ghatak’s. He was most eager on formal experimentation and, not like most artists, by no means settled down after discovering a sample that labored. All through his profession, he by no means made greater than three or 4 movies in a row earlier than making an attempt one thing distinctly totally different, even when he acquired appreciable essential popularity of the sooner type. I consider he was additionally extra reactive to his environment and his time than the opposite two.

Inform us about his friendship with Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

They first met in 1982 once they each served on the jury on the Cannes Movie Pageant. They’d related tastes in movies which introduced them nearer.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez (left) and Mrinal Sen.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez (left) and Mrinal Sen.

That yr there was a Cuban movie in competitors. My father didn’t care as a lot for the movie, however Marquez was eager to see it obtain some recognition. He informed my father he owed it to his expensive pal Fidel Castro. Marquez was hesitant to convey it up through the jury conferences due to his well-known reference to Castro and wished my father to lift it. Reluctantly, he recommended if the movie could possibly be given particular recognition as a consultant of Cuban cinema. This proposal was instantly rejected because the competition recognises particular person work, and never the collective output of a rustic.

Instantly after he got here again from France, the Nobel Prize for Marquez was introduced, and my father was delighted. A number of years later, each my dad and mom have been invited to spend just a few weeks at a Havana movie faculty. Marquez was additionally there on the similar time. This was once they spent lengthy hours speaking about many issues. Throughout this time, Marquez additionally recommended my father make a movie together with his work. He was gratified however didn’t really feel he understood Latin American life properly sufficient to do justice to it.

A few years later, my father acquired a reasonably sentimental letter from Marquez, a form of farewell be aware. Later it was revealed that a lot of Marquez’s buddies had acquired the identical letter, which was pretend, perpetrated by a Mexican ventriloquist. They by no means met once more.

The interviewer teaches literature and movie at FLAME College, Pune.

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