Why Parashuram should not be considered as a lesser work of Mrinal Sen?

Posted: April 28, 2019 in Bangla 1970-80, Bengali films, Cinema techniques, Mrinal Sen, Two Hundred Bengali Cinema

parashuram

(Pix src: mrinalsen.org)

I recently saw the 1979 Mrinal Sen directed PARASHURAM on Youtube. It is generally considered as a lesser work in the ouvre of the veteran filmmaker. Watching the film, I found several strands which MS uses in this particular work, that find recurrence in many of his later films, some of which are considered to be among ‘his very best.’

PARASHURAM (THE MAN WITH THE AXE) is a tale of the sub-altern migrants in a city. Many of them were small time farmers who couldn’t sustain a livelihood back in the village. The influx into the city hasn’t improved their conditions, and they have been reduced to pavement dwellers in a city which prides itself on its moniker ‘The City of Joy.’

But does joy embrace the life of these have-nots, or wretchedness pervades their existence? No Indian director excelled in weaving humour around a central ‘grim narrative’ like MS, the light-hearted moments providing relief and yet contributing in the progression of the storyline, showcasing the dreams and aspirations of the protagonists. Probably this story-telling style is an ode to Charlie Chaplin, a favourite of the director. Though in his earlier CHORUS, MS had used a gimmicky style quite innovatively, some of the characters in that film were from the upper echelons of society. In PARASHURAM Sen has focused his lens on the pavement dwellers and brings in certain tenderness while narrating their life stories which are otherwise harsh – this technique was used in great abundance in his last film AAMAR BHUBAN. A particular shot of Sreela Mazumdar framed against a wall  is reminiscent of a similar shot of Shabana Azmi in KHANDAHAR (1983) which became iconic a few years later.

The non-returning of a woman to her home, which formed the main narrative of the masterful EK DIN PRATIDIN (1979), also finds appearance in a sub-plot in PARASHURAM. Allegorical use to represent class struggle and its inevitable destiny, surrealism that reflect the mental conditions of the protagonists and such devices, have been skillfully used to broaden the context – from the individual to the collective.

Through some of the characters in the film, the director seems to be making a critique on modern existence. When the elderly character of Bibhas Chakraborty narrates to our ‘Parashuram’ a tale of the missing girl being rescued and saved from a devastating flood in her early life, yet she couldn’t be saved from the magnetic pull of the cities (she elopes with her lover) later, the underlying social message does come to the fore.

Overall, such a grim subject on pavement dwellers runs the risk of being boring and sentimental, but it’s to the credit of the director that he elevates the film to become an authentic celluloid document of the homeless in our metro cities. The growing homelessness across the globe is a major challenge to cope with for developing / developed country.  For example, in the National Capital Region of India where I live, even now each year several homeless people die during the harsh winters – something that is a blot on our society.

As far as I recall, this is probably the only film the private Marxist filmmaker (as Mrinalda liked to describe himself)  has made that has a direct reference to the Hindu religion, the titular character being a reincarnation of Lord Vishnu and though being a Brahmin was known for his warlike traits. Whether the protagonist in the film succeed in vanquishing all the adversaries like the character from Hindu folklore, one would refrain from divulging such details and would recommended watching the film, which despite the harshness remains a work brimming with hope and despair, cinematic novelty and an authentic portrayal of the marginalized, often viewed as the dregs of society.

SG

Rating: 4 out of 5

Excerpts from an Mrinal Sen Interview:

Tell us about your latest film.

Ans: My latest film – a kind of fiction- documentary combine- called PARASHURAM, depicts life on the city pavements. The pavement dwellers are mostly rural migrants who once were landless farmers and who are now reduced to the level of the sub-proletariat community. The leading character, not by any chance my protagonist, once killed a tiger with him axe while felling trees in a jungle. It was just on an impulse that he killed the tiger. But, as everybody knows, Parashuram’s crusade against the Kshatriya’s was an act of retribution. My job in the film was not to look for the militants among the rural migrants. It was just to make a few valid socio- economic points and, in the process, to be critical of the soul-killing system prevalent in our society and also to develop respect for the circumstances in which my characters live and perish.  In a way, the film also tries to portray the concept of an average man who, suffering humiliations all his life, indulges in pitifully impotent fantasies. I wanted the film to be funny and grim.

Read more at: https://www.deccanherald.com/metrolife/metrolife-move/auteur-mrinal-sen-indian-712015.html

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s