Interview with Mrinal Sen
Mrinal Sen Born in 1923 at Faridpur and which is now in Bangladesh, Sen studied science in Calcutta before he joined the Communist Party of India. At this time he read voraciously on films and aesthetics and reviewed films. His early films were heavily influenced by Marxist ideals and his second film, Neel Akasher Neechay (Under the Blue Sky, 1958) was banned by the government for two months. Unlike Satyajit Ray, his great contemporary with whom he is often compared, Mrinal Sen did not restrict himself to Bengali films. He made in Odia and Telugu, as well as in Hindi. After MATIRA MANISHA and its commercial failure, when he was sitting idle, he had applied to the Film Finance Corporation for a loan. He got the loan and with it made BHUVAN SHOME in 1969 and it was a radical departure from his earlier films and also the usual kind of Indian films. Mrinal Sen’s moving neo-realistic film of the ‘sixties, Matira Manisha (The Man of Earth), which first caused a handful of Odia artists and intellectuals to take a close look into the possibilities of cinema as both an art form and a tool for critical social discourse, it is likely that the picture would have been even more disheartening. Matira Manisha started with a preconceived notion of surrealism and liberation of the unconscious. The whole armory of sophisticated treatments was employed, as a result of which it turned somewhat mechanistic. Besides, the film contained all the pet nostrums of Mrinal Sen. For instance, he can always call on a train or a village fair to represent solitude and in communication. Matira Manisha at times was so ridden with gimmicks that often it verged on affectation. Yet its vastly cinematic idiom had never been made before in Odia and hence it secured for Odia film recognition of maturity.
In an interaction with Ashok Palit, the icon opens his heart out about Odia film ‘ Matira Manisha’ which was being produced by Baulal Dosi under his home banner Chhayabani Pratisthan in 1966 and received National award as Best Regional (Odia)Film in 1967.
Please describe your journey as a Film director?
It was an accident. I never had any particular interest in cinema as such. When I was a student, I was not even a film viewer. As a student of science (physics) I wanted to study sound recording. I did go to a sound studio to learn recording, though I didn’t like it much. I was interested in the mathematics of this sound, not in other things. Even when I was at the studio, I never went to the (shooting) floor. I used to read a lot. In fact, I used to read any and everything, without knowing how to shape myself. One day it so happened, instead of reading fiction, or a biography or a play, I read a book on cinema. I just bumped into this book on aesthetics of cinema by a German writer and I was completely floored. And that was the beginning of my love affair with cinema.
Why you have decided to make in multi-language?
The culture of poverty is the same all over the world. Exploitation follows a certain ubiquitous pattern…An ordinary family drama becomes a valid social document, I have of late developed a taste for pamphleteering to blend the fictional with the actualities to draw conclusions on a propagandist note.
How you get an assignment as a director ‘Matira Manisha’?
It was during my struggle period, a Gujarati man from Odisha came to me with a proposal to direct ‘Matira Manisha’ which was very popular novel written by Kalandi Charan Panigrahi,I accept his proposal and asked him to submit the English translation of the same novel.
Are you confirmed about the success of the film?
Not at all, I told the producer that this film never generate the money which is being invested, my another condition was no song should be inducted in this film, but the producer without my knowledge inducted two song which was very unbecoming for which it was my condition that my name should not be in the credit card of revised version ‘Matira Manisha’ .
Some critic during that time complains against you that ‘Matira Manisha’ film was totally different from original Novel?
A director has every right to change the original novel while penned the script, because for an adoption of a novel to the film is a very difficult task. Though both literature and cinema are arts of narration, their ways of representation are completely different. There are multifarious effects of this symbiosis which are positive as well as negative. Our texts reach out to local audiences only when they are modified in order to make them relevant to the cultural and ideological concerns of the new audiences that were far removed from the writer’s vision. On one hand it provides a larger audience to literary texts, while on the other, we observe an acute decline in the readership of these texts in the presence of their audio-visual counterparts.
You have added one dream sequence in the ‘Matira Manisha’?
I have of late developed a taste for pamphleteering to blend the fictional with the actualities to draw conclusions on a propagandist note, I used to dream of riding Garuda — the mythical king of birds and the carrier of Vishnu, the slayer of enemies. I would ride on the bird around the house and then it would fly away. I used this image in ‘Matira Manisha’. How easily our experiences metamorphose into art.
There was a complaint from the producer was that Kalandi Charan Panigrahi novel ‘Matira Manisha’was based on an ideology of Gandhi but Mrinal Sen ‘Matira Manisha’film was heavily influenced by Marxism?
The film contrasts traditional and modern values as exemplified by divergent attitudes of two brothers to their inherited land. Such divergence in attitudes is intensified during war years when native exploiters and controllers of agrarian economy appear on the scene. Interestingly, no conclusion is drawn and no judgment is offered in the film. The spectator is asked to watch and, in the process, to get involved, to question. So where is the question of Gandhi vs. Marx?