A Sen-sational filmmaker

A Sen-sational filmmaker

When a great man passes on, he leaves a void behind, and memories. (Mrinal Sen died on December 30 after a remarkable career in filmmaking.) My personal recollection of this great man’s oeuvre goes back to the Kolkata (then Calcutta) of the 80’s — 1981 to be exact. My wife and I had just relocated to Kolkata from Delhi.

The house we lived in was a modest affair in a modest neighbourhood on Sree Mohan lane, close to Southern Market. We lived on the first floor and from our balcony, we could catch glimpses of the goings-on in the lane below.

One evening, there was quite a bustle at the end of the lane — a large makeshift movie screen was being put up and the kids were all excited, as was wont those days when a movie screening was imminent.

Although we virtually had a “balcony seat”, we did not share the children’s excitement. We had seen many such street-side movie shows before, and these were generally of blockbusters, complete with villains and fight scenes — stuff we turned up our noses at, having become rather more ‘arty’ in our tastes. Thus, we missed the beginning of the movie.

But in a while something about the soundtrack drew my attention, perhaps it was the absence of the clichéd music and dialogues, which commercial movies usually have. Soon I was watching the movie in rapt attention and called out to my wife to watch it with me. We must have sat and watched the rest of the movie for the best part of the next two hours, our dinner forgotten.

It was in Bengali, with no subtitles naturally, and yet we sat riveted. (Having just moved to the city, we didn’t know the language.) It was the story of a day in the life of a harried unmarried working woman who has to take care of a large family including her elderly parents and her younger sister.

At the end of the movie, we were both unanimous in our opinion that we had just watched a great film, without knowing its name or the name of the director. It was much later that we learned that the movie was Ek Din Prati Din starring Mamata Shankar and Sreela Mazumdar and directed by Mrinal Sen.

It was also our first exposure to the fact that what was ‘art cinema’ for those from the rest of the country, was the staple diet of most Bengali movie watchers, including those who stayed in nondescript neighbourhoods.