Archive for the ‘Mrinal Sen’ Category

Chalchitra / Kaleidoscope (1981, Dir. Mrinal Sen, India)

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This semi-comical snapshot of the middle class Bengali experience in Kolkata is apparently a minor work in Sen’s oeuvre. The story is slight; a young Bengali man Dipu (Anjan Dutta) aspires to be a journalist and as a sort of test of creativity, the editor of a newspaper (Utpal Dutta) asks Dipu to write a story based on his own middle class experiences. The story of Dipu trying to write is merely a pretext for Sen to remain connected with the urban landscape of Kolkata, a return to the richness of the city spaces, last probed with such pleasure since his Kolkata Trilogy. The socio-political urgency of Sen’s cinema after the aesthetic and thematic experiments of The Kolkata Trilogy never really went away from his work – he remained just as connected with the social milieu of the city. For instance, the uninhibited camera roaming freely through the fish market recalls Interview (70) when Ranjit meets his uncle, the first of many self-referential instances. Later, when Dipu tries to flag down a taxi in the bustling streets of Kolkata, Sen adopts an erratic editing style, articulating a blinding disorientation reminiscent of the street cinema of The Kolkata Trilogy, in which characters are liberated and imprisoned by the city in a scarring psychological duality.

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There is probably a consensus that Sen made two trilogies. The Kolkata Trilogy (1970 – 1973; InterviewCalcutta 71 and Padatik – although you could probably argue for Chorus too, which was released in 1974), and The Absence Trilogy (Ek Din Pratidin/And Quite Rolls The Dawn – 1979, Kharij/The Case Is Closed – 1982 and Ek Din Achanak/Suddenly, One Day – 1989).  I would argue Chalchitra is part of another trilogy, although much looser, but nonetheless important, which also includes Akaler Shandhaney/In Search of Famine (1980) and Khandahar/The Ruins (1983). The abiding theme in this trilogy is concerned with the media apparatus (film crew, photographer, journalist) and the role of the middle class in terms of mediating the politics of representation, exploitation and the gaze. In Chalchitra, Dipu’s urge to sensationalise the mundanity of the middle class experience constantly backfires on him because numerous opportunities for journalistic fodder are met with resistance from the people he encounters notably his mother (Geeta Dutt). It is only when a little boy poses the banal question: ‘How many ovens are there in Kolkata?’ does Dipu finally finds something to write about – pollution, smoke and coal. But this degree of obscurity points to something elemental about the middle class mentality and which results in Utpal Dutta enquiring if Dipu is a communist, a question first posed in Ray’s Pratidwandi (1970), and which seemingly never went away from the psyche of the older generation of Kolkata. Chalchitra features an elaborately staged but very comical dream sequence, clearly a manifestation of Dipu’s jumbled, anxious mind, and which features microcosmic imagery of smoke, women, the police and the press. There is a danger of dismissing Chalchitra as a minor, insubstantial work. However, once situated as part of a loose trilogy, the film takes on an added resonance and deserves a further look.

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A neglected genius

Posted: April 19, 2018 in Mrinal Sen

In my School and College days, I was an ardent fan of Amitabh Bachchan. Scarcely would I miss any of his starrers, and not content with a single viewing, usually I ended up watching a Bachchan starrer a number of times. Around that time, quite naturally, I had an apathy towards the “other Cinema.” The “art cinema”, I found, was very slow paced, mostly shot in dark making the characters invisible, based on themes of poverty, hunger and famine and the treatment very confusing.

After College, I went to the University. My love affair with Bachchan continued. One day, quite by chance, I saw the film “CALCUTTA 71.” The experience was a mind-blowing one. This Bengali film, directed by Mrinal Sen, was a highly intense feature based on four short stories by eminent Bengali writers like Manik Bandopadhyay, Samaresh Basu and others, against the backdrop of turbulent times of those days and the Naxalite movement. It was my initiation into the world of Mrinal Sen, Gautam Ghosh, Bhaben Saikia, Arinbam Shyam Sharma and other realistic ‘Indian Filmmakers.’ I developed an interest in their work and whenever I got an opportunity to see more of their works, I availed it.

I found that Mrinal Sen, with a career spanning five decades, had an impressive filmography of highly intense and masterly original works, arguably the finest specimen of Indian films ever made. I felt both disturbed and enlightened by watching his works like ‘Baisey Shravan’,’Bhuvan Shome’, ‘Padatik’, ‘Kharij’, ‘Ek Din Pratidin’, ‘Akaler Sandhane’,’Mrigaya’, ‘Khandahar’ and many more. His films have, quite naturally, been honored at the most prestigious International Film Festivals like Berlin, Cannes, Venice and others. His films have evoked a keen interest in all major film-making Countries.

Unfortunately, in his own country, he is one of the lesser known personalities, and hardly any of his masterpieces have been released on a big scale, or enjoyed a good run at the Theatres. In retrospect, even the Indian Govt. seems to be neglecting this genius who celebrated his ninetieth birthday recently. National Honors like Padma Vibhusan and a Bharat Ratna seem to be eluding, whereas personalities of lesser depths are being honored by the Govt. When will our National Committees honor such gifted people, whose numbers are dwindling with every passing day?

Teacher on celluloid …

Posted: September 5, 2017 in Mrinal Sen, Satyajit Ray, Tidbits

Art imitates life. Today I am reminded of the supporting character of the father of one of the lead pair viz., Anil Chaterji in Satyajit Ray’s MAHANAGAR (1964) – an aged retired teacher with traditional beliefs unable to comprehend changing times. When he tries to reach out to his past successful students during his hard times, their insensitivity towards him is a reflection of how we treat our teachers in modern society. In Mrinal Sen’s EK DIN ACHANAK an academically bent Professor leaves his family for an unknown destination when his family and society doesn’t accord him the respect he felt due to him….

Ray-Sen friendship

Posted: August 7, 2017 in Mrinal Sen, Satyajit Ray

 

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Ek Din Pratidin” (And Quiet Rolls the Day) remains an artistic triumph in the career of Mrinal Sen.

The gist: The narrative underlined what happens when a working girl doesn’t return home after work on a particular day. MS is one of the first to assess the changing position of women with industrialization and urbanization. Mamata Shankar, Gita Sen, Sreela Mazumdar & Satya Bandophyay comprised the cast.

Ek Din Pratidin was based on a story by famed Bengali writer Amalendu Chakravorty. A family of seven members with father (Satya Bandopadhyay), moher (Gita Sen), three sisters and two brothers are mostly dependent on the earning of a single member of the family, i.e. the eldest working daughter (Mamata Shankar).

The film opens with a long shot sequence of a hand-pulled  rickshaw entering a claustrophobic neighborhood. Thereafter, it cuts to a young child getting hurt  while playing, and taken to the clinic for treatment. One of the early sequence also shows a man urinating on the walls of the house where the family lived and the house-owner castigating the person concerned for the act – scenes of everyday life in Calcutta. MS always gave us such images from Calcuttan life in film after film.

The story unfolds slowly when the working girl doesn’t return home that night. At first, the family members kept silent hoping that she might have been working overtime, and will arrive late. The middle sister (Sreela Mazumdar in a superb performance) goes out to make a phone call to see if her sister might still be at the office. She returns home without being able to contact her.

Now the family members gets panicky, and the father goes out and watches the buses go by, without his daughter alighting from any of them. When the last bus also passes by, he returns home. Soon the inmates of the multiple storied building where both the landowner and his several tenants resided got wind of the fact that the working girl has not returned home that night.

The reactions from the various neighbors are depicted beautifully. Some makes acerbic comments, while others are more sympathetic. There are good Samaritan too who came to help the family in their hour of crisis. Two such characters, Shyamalda who stays in the same premise, and the scooter-owner friend of the brother goes out in search of the missing person. They head to the Police Station to lodge a complaint. Biplab Chaterji as a policeman, in a small role, excels. Biplab raids the family’s residence for basic inquiry, and extracts some facts about Mamata’s personal life (the type of garments she was wearing on that day). Sreela provided Biplab and his assisting officers with the necessary details.

Meanwhile, the brother and his friend check out the morgue to ascertain whether his sister’s dead body was brought there. The family also receives a news that a lady matching the description of  the missing woman lay badly injured in an accident in Nilratan Medical Hospital. The father, along with the good neighbour Shyamalda, set off for the Hospital to find out…

It was found that the girl was not his daughter. They return home relieved.

However, it was a harrowing time for the family during the night. In the wee hours of the morning, the small girl of the family sights her eldest sister (Mamata Shankar) coming back. Surprisingly, everyone in the family eyed her with suspicion. No one asks her as to where she had been the previous night…

The landlord alights the staircase and asks the father to vacate the house as soon as possible. He harped upon the fact that the locality is meant only for decent people.

The last sequence shows Gita Sen in the morning hours(who was keeping bad health the previous night) begin her preparation for her everyday household chores…

The film was released in 1979, and won awards at several International Film Festivals. The camerawork by K K Mahajan is brilliant capturing effectively the moods and emotions of the actors & the tense atmosphere of the surroundings.

Analysis: The critics may find faults. They may argue that in a big city where neighbors live like virtual strangers, neighbors discussing the non-returning of the girl to the house at such length is not a realistic portrayal of modern times, where people are mostly unconcerned about the lives of others. Maybe such debatable  issues apart, the novelty of the theme has never been explored in Indian cinema. Sen’s penchant to keep the audiences guessing as to where the girl disappeared is very much in evidence because he doesn’t offer any solution. Film Critic John W Hood finds an excellent example of the liberated woman in “Ek Din Pratidin”. “The heroine is her own boss. There is no answer to the question why she did not return home at night. Sen says it is her business where she had been.”

In an Interview, when Mrinal Sen was asked about his personal relationship with Satyajit Ray, Sen said that they never discussed each other’s films in great detail. Ray made some acerbic comment regarding this film, saying that the filmmaker doesn’t know where the women character had disappeared the previous night. Mrinal countered this and said that definitely he could have offered a solution in the film (the telephone call in the neighborhood medical dispensary late at night that went unanswered was an indicator of the missing woman trying to contact his family members) as to where the girl had disappeared, but that was not where the focus of the film lay. What he was trying to expose was the hollowness of our responses whenever misfortune befalls  someone.

When the core theme remains the same, it is interesting to unravel how two great filmmakers approach it. The theme in question – exploitation of women and the filmmakers – Ritwik Ghatak (Meghe Dhaka Tara) & Mrinal Sen (Ek Din Pratidin). The film EK DIN PRATIDIN came roughly two decades after MEGHE DHAKA TARA. In the Ghatak work, we find novelty in sound design & lighting patterns, the use of classical music in the unfolding of the storyline. In terms of narrative style, it was quite straight-forward. The Mrinal Sen film is an experimentation to convey the message under the guise of a suspenseful incident. MS also incorporates several strands of calcuttan life deftly in his cinema. They become a living document of the lives of the citizens of his favorite city.

The interview: In the book ‘Out of God’s Oven: Travels in a fractured land’ by Dom Moreas and Sarayu Srivatsa (Penguin Viking, Pg 118) there is an interview of Mrinalda with the authors and a Japanese gentleman Watanabe. When asked to speak about his films, Mrinalda smiled ‘Of course, of course. About my films, let me see. Yes, recently I made a film about a middle class family. A woman, twenty five years old, she does not come home one night. She comes home the next morning. That is what the film is about.’

Watanabe looked amused. Mrinalda laughed. ‘When she doesn’t return her family members become worried. The neighbors ask question. They react. The film is about their reaction. Their reaction tells you about the middle-class-ness of Indian families. At the end of the film, the landlord asks the family to leave the flat; go elsewhere.’                                                                                                                                                         Why?                                                                                                                                                          ‘Because everyone in the building say terrible things about the girl. If an Indian girl stays out of the house for a night, it is a very bad thing.’

Watanabe nodded slowly. ‘ Ah soo. Ah su desu ne. Rike Sita in Lamayana. I see now. Sita come home to God Lam , but she spend so many night out so Lam not accepting her. Hai, so desu ne, Lam was worried that Lavana would have touched Sita. So-so, the doubt was there in Lam’s mind. I see, I see. So, yo- a story based rittre bit on, Lamayana? Hai.’

Mrinalda digressed and said, “The film is about women, the inequalities that exist even now and how people treat women.’

Rating: 4.5 out of 5