Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Mrinal Da interviewed.

  1. Mrinal Sen is the only surviving iconic film maker among the three world famous of the film auters from Bengal, Satyajit Ray and Ritwick Kumar Ghatak . Three of them pioneered the good film genre in India, giving the medium a place in the global map. Miran da, as he is fondly called by one and all turned 90 on May 14. I met him at his Kolkottta, Padopur residence on a hot Sunday morning, where he was complaining about the excessive heat which makes his” brains stop working”. Born in 1923 in a small town now in Bangladesh , his family with 12 siblings immigrated to Kolkotta during forties . He was a witness to the great Bengal famine during the second war and also the funeral of Rabindranath Tagore. Miranl Sen directed his first film “Raathbore” was made in 1955. Since then he has made 31 major films, of which he considers only fifteen as worth “ restoring and digitizing”. He is a film society made film maker and owes his existence to the “minority” audience across the globe. He loved to treat all his films as dress rehersals , when he see them now as believes in “ correcting (his) own conclusions”. When I wished him happy 90th birthday, he wrote back” I had an accident, long back, 90 years ago, on 14 May, my birth day. I am now waiting for another accident, a major accident, and I hope I can take it gracefully.Love.” Though he is waiting for the next big accident of his life (death), he still speaks of another film with “ Soumitra (Chatterjee) and Naseer(Naseeruddin Shah) and a bank offering him Rs 5 crore with which he can make 6 films. For a film maker who made his path breaking “ Bhuvan Shome” in 1969 with Rs 1.5 lakhs loan from the then Finance Financing corporation, the challenges of time and period is as interesting as ever. He shared his 62 years film making in a candid interview about the world (“bhuvan”) of his films……He is a winner of many an national and internal awards for his films (list is endless)and also the coveted Dada Saheb Phalke award for his contribution to films in India.He was also nominated member of Indian Parliament.

    Q: A happy birthday Mrinal Da, and tell me how did you become a film maker, in those difficult days of 50s? 

    Mrinal Sen: I am a film maker by accident. I am a writer at times. I write when I am compelled to write something. I had no absolutely no interest in cinema in the beginning. But I remember to have seen, in my home town , now in Bangladesh, three silent films . It came in the annual mela in my town. That was touring cinema and they used to come every year. I went there to see a film, not one but three films. All were silent films. “Kid” (Chaplin’s) was one of the films, made in 1921, that was one film I saw and remember even today. Then I forgot all about it. I studies in school and intermediate science in my home town. Then I came to Calcutta. When I came to Calcutta, I was not at all addicted to films. I used to see films here and there with my friends. My interest then was reading books and I had no discipline that way. I used to read, there was no direction, I used to read everything. I read fiction, I read poetry, dramas and used to read novels….fiction and also books on sociology.. on anthropology and on everything. I was master on none. Once it so happened that I bumped into a book on cinema, aesthetics of cinema, not that I liked the whole of the book.. I could not understand the whole of the book, but I felt that it was a great book. That is how I started making films that is how I started my interest in films. Since I have been reading lot of books on cinema, which was made available to me, mostly from National Library..it used to be called during the British period, the Imperial Library. After independence it was names as National Library. That is how I tried to understand films. After that when the film society started here(Calcutta film society), it was basically two persons, Satyajit Ray and Chidananda Dasgupta, ,,there was others too. But they were the main force,. I am no historian, but let me tell you that were the first film society born in India

    Q: There was something’s happening in Mumbai, but this was the major one…

    Miranl Sen: Yes, this was the major one(film society) and has been doing very well. I saw Battleship Potemkin( Eistentine’s) there. >Q: Where you member there? Miran Sen: Yes, I was a member, but did not pay any money. Those days I had no money with me. I started watching films, as much as possible. Since then I became a lifelong member of the society, (CFS)without paying any money!! Eventually I became the Vice President of the society when Satyajit Ray, was the President. After that, there is another film society, Cine Central, which is the largest one in Calcutta now. I was also closely associated with it. Later on I was also the President of International Federation of film societies based in London and Bonn. I was there for so many years. I told them , I am not an organizer, why do u want me to be a President, but they insisted. Truffaut (French film maker) was also there. Q: Mrinal da, does that mean that seeing such films through film societies played an important role in your life as a film maker? Mrinal Sen: Very much so. Actually I learned cinema from watching films from film society movement. I had gone to them, Film societies during my birthday (on May14-when he turned 90). CFS has been restored and Pradipta Sen is there (an original member of 57-when it was revived with Marie Seton). He knows all about the movement.
    Q: Yes I met Mr Sen had a long chat with him. But my question to you is that, how you see it from a film makers view point, this movement , because you made different kind of films and there was an audience in Calcutta, in Bengal and then a spillover of audience to rest of India through this movement.

    Mrinal Sen: That was the time I started seeing films, commercial films most of the time, foreign films, Indian films. <

    Q: Bombay films? 

    Mirnal Sen: Don’t say Bombay films, do not say Hollywood or Bolly wood. I know films made in Bombay, Madras and Trivandrum, film made in Calcutta, Indian films. These are Indian films. There are so many cinemas in India. I learned nothing from viewing these films. Whatever I learned was from film society screenings. They organized plenty films from various sources, from the embassies, consulates and they got one film from the British film institute-Battleship Potemkin. That was gifted to them(CSF). I saw this film many times. >Q: Was this gift arranged by Marie Seton? Do you remember having met this British lady, who was also with Eisenstein…? Mrinal Sen:Marie Seton came here and she came to my place. But then talk to me about my films, not about others. My first film was awful, very bad…. I kept making films…I made good, bad and indifferent films, all because of my involvement with film society movement. As a matter of fact, now that there are too many, film society is not part of your life, because you have film festivals all around. That is how you see films. So the film society does not have much to offer now. But even then, film societies have been doing a lot. But I cannot forget the fact , film societies are the ones who taught how to make films….. Film societies have been part of my life… >Q: Do you think they (FS) prepared an audience for you,, your kind of films….? Mirnal Sen: I do not think so. I will be the happiest man to see many of my films..When a large number of people see my films, they become a commercial viable proposition. That way, in a way I also become a commercially viable proposition. I want to see that large number of people view my films. But it never happened in my life….it never happened in Ritwick Ghatak’s life..it did not happen with Ray films..Only very few films do very well. Even then I keep on making films.. I have a simple arithmetic to work on. I know that I can only reach the minority audience… this minority audience is scattered all over the world..And if I can organize the minority audience and the cost of production is not very high.. There is no reason why I must not get back my money (invested for the film) with some profit. That way I keep myself going for ages. For the last 60 years I have been doing that…

    Q: What about the availability of good films today?

    Mrinal Sen: Films are always available to you by DVD or other formats. And you have the film festivals every year..Everywhere…In all the cities and all metropolitan cities..Various government are having their own festivals..Then you have the German film festival, Italian film festival… you have the British festival…so many of them are available to you. And you see films on DVD as well..I do not like DVD..as such..You need lot of space..lot of sir to watch a film..That is why you need a large audience…Even then in the history of cinema; film societies have a very important role. It has been playing an important role still. 

    Q: What is the main role of these film societies…for a film maker like you…creating the right audience, ambience…?? 

    Mrinal Sen: You cannot expect large number of people to see your films. Any sensible film maker,, when he makes films, his films are not that reachable to everyone… For instance fiction..If you read novels.. Not all novels are very popular.. Popular novels are very different… Even then I want to be popular… But I am a popular failure most of the time…in the box office..But then that is why my arithmetic is very simple...I make low budget films. People say film making is an expensive process. I do not agree with the…Not all agree with them(repeat)..Films can be made low cost..I have been making low cost films…If you make low costs films and if you can get to the larger minority audience scattered across the world..the larger minority audience… who would be seeing your film…and that way I keep going…That is inspite of the fact that I am a popular failure at the box office I keep going…
    Q: Coming back to film society…what does these societies means to you? 

    Mrinal Sen: Parents are very important for a child to grow. Film societies have bene very important for me to grow.
    Q: I was going through old paper and found that Prime Minister Nehru and upto Ms Gandhi, where interested in having an Indian cultural idiom in films and encouraged your kind of films….DO you think policy makers are committed that way about films now. You were a parliament member till recently .Do you think the government and policy makers are as committed as earlier about your kind of films..? 

     Mrinal Sen: Do not expect the government do it..Let us do it ourselves..The government will help. For instance my films, the negatives are in bad condition. Not only mine, but my colleagues film negatives are in bad condition. It has to be restored. Cannes festival wanted a mini retrospective of my films..I told them that I cannot give them that since the prints are in bad shape. Both the negatives and prints. That was the time Prime Minister Manmohan Singh heard about it, he contacted me and asked me how come your films are in such shape?...I told him that to restore the film is an expensive proposition. H e (PM) said we will do it. He immediately asked the (National film archives) to see that all my films are digitized and restored. I said do not do that. I made large number of films, but not all are good. I can select 15 of my films, which could be digitized and restored. I know it is a very expensive proposition. Then there are others too to be treated that way. Their films must also be restored and digitized.Tghis is what the government is doing. 

    Q: This happened when you are a member of parliament?.

    Mrinal Sen: It had nothing do with me being a member of parliament. I was a member of parliament. I was nominated by the President. Then I told the then President KR Narayanan, that you made a wrong choice. I am not a parliamentarian. Then he told me that , if you are a good parliamentarian, I will be happy, If you are not a good parliamentarian , I will not be unhappy either, since we know we chosen an important man to be in Parliament. This is how government helps. When I had completed 25 years of film making, my film Santhal was shown in Cannes in the classics section That was a restored film by Government of India. 

    Q: There was a suggestion for a Chalachitra academy for supporting such activities and films. Do you think such institutions for films can handle such situations?

    . Mrinal Sen: Academy cannot do much. They can talk about it. But you need funding. Who is going to fund it. Rich people will not do the funding. So it is the government which can do the funding. The government is already doing some.

    Q: Do you think, NFDC and FFC kind of support, exists any longer to film makers? 

    Mrinal Sen: These are the issues which I am talking about. You know all about it. Why are you asking me? Q:But your views are important. You went through all of it and you made good of it… Mrinal Sen: Martin Soraces for instance. He is running short of funds. He has stopped making films, he is restoring films. I am told he is after some of my films to be restored. Film restoration is a very expensive proposition. 

    Q: After 60 years of film making, how do you see the good film movement going. Adoor is alive and making films, so is Gautum Ghosh, Budhadev Dasgupta and Aparna Sen in Bengal.. Where is the good film movement going? Are they in the right direction?

    Mrinal Sen: I think everyone is going in their own way. They are making good films. But I am bothered more about restoration, since it is an expensive proposition. Government has been doing it. But they (govt) have many things to do. Food comes first, health comes later, then education..then may be cinema. 

    Q: You are considered to be the most important political film maker in India… 

    Mrinal Sen: That I do not know. I make films, I make films about situation around me…And what is political and not political that I do not know. You can make a relationship between a man and women politically. To make films politically and make political films are two different things. I have bene making films, I have made mistakes.. I keep correcting my own conclusions.. This is because of my involvement with film society movement. I conclude to correct myself. Every time I see my own films.. I wish these could be treated at dress rehearsals so that I can do them over again…So this is how you correct your own conclusions…This is not my saying..but that of an eminent philosopher, who was Tagore’s contemporary..Dr Bujensheel is his name… He said …you need to correct your own conclusions…

    Q: In sixty years of film making, how do you look at the body of work you have done? Are you happy with what you have done? 

    Mrinal Sen: On the one hand when I get a big award, I have got many, national and international, minor or major, I feel very very happy. At the same time I have a sense of dissatisfaction, that I could perhaps make it better… That is what I always feel.

    Q: What was the biggest constraint for you in making films?..Was it money? Audience….?

    Mrinal Sen: Initially it was money, but not anymore…A nationalized bank recently asked me.Why do not you apply for a loan?...I said I do not want to mortgage anything..not a house…They said you do not have to mortgage anything…but just mortgage yourself…But then they said the loan will not be less than Rs 5 crores. I said you give me 5 crores and I will make six films….That is the situation now…

    View comments

    1. Very nice Cherian. It takes us all into a nostalgic journey of the Magic Of Cinema. I suppose today's generation will never be able to fathom the 'magic' we are talking about. Then cinema was an activity art of togetherness. It is our great fortune that we have a great Master of Cinema, Mrinal Da, conversing with us. Happy belated birthday Mrinal Da. Love Sunny
    2. Thanks Sunny for all of us and our growing up years
    3. Cherian, you shot this picture of his?


  1. Nice simple interview. A life that amazes with it's diversity of karma and thought..keep writing vk..

  2. Excellent and balanced. Congrats dear Cheriyan!