He remarks “I am committed to my own time. That is my biggest challenge in my filmmaking. Time changes, so do I. So do my content and form. I look upon my life and work as part of the social and political fabric of my own time. I try to capture moments of crisis, moments of truth in the ordinary lives of ordinary people.”
But what about the producers and censor board? No challenge on that front? “I had never had to scout for ‘well-meaning' producers. And throughout my career I played cat and mouse with the stupid diktats of Censor Board. I have seldom accepted censorship of any kind.
Mrinal Sen is known for his unconditional accessibility, a diminishing trait especially among public figures. Braving the flip side of a congenial dialogue with the common audience, he strikes a dialogue only to speak his mind, never to colour the ensuing interpretation. Ditto for his films. He observes “We have made films. Interpretations are yours, the viewer. Are you not a part of the creative process? I think you’re”
But did he face problems with his own interpretations at times? His admission is characteristically unqualified. “Since I’m the first spectator of my own films, I always look upon my films as dress-rehearsals. That’s the reason why I feel like making them all over again. Besides, I need to correct my own conclusions. I ask you to treat my statement as absolutely positive.
Would it be right to call him an activist filmmaker given the non-conformist stance of his films? He’s invariably played the role of an activist through his films – whether by causing a big dent into romantic notions of poverty, exposing the deep-rooted colonial hangover and feudal mindset even in urban milieus or by taking the establishment by its horns. “Who is not an activist in the genuine sense of the term?” He observes. Sen's films are stylized and yet the cause drives them. How does he achieve this blend? “Both are intertwined. For me, one doesn’t negate the other.
Sen shared a brutally honest connect with director Satyajit Ray which the media nauseatingly labelled as a love-hate relationship. But even the level-headed followers of Ray and Sen were intrigued by the long running “Statesman” debate over Sen’s film “Akash Kusum”? In hindsight, how does he look at the whole episode? Did both unknowingly go overboard with it or was the extended deliberation much called for?
“I must tell you I do not see the controversy emanating from a love-hate relationship. This was how it began. A review appeared in the city’s leading daily, The Statesman. It was not very positive, but, by no means, negative either. The author of the story wrote a sharp rejoinder. Honestly, I had no reason to instigate him, which was not my business. It was Ray who called me and said he was going to write a short piece without hurting me. That was it. But that set the ball rolling. In his inimitable style, Ray made a sarcastic comment about the author of the story and was obliquely a bit critical about the film too. Though a long-time friend of Ray, the author hit back. And, I too, for no reason enough, joined the fray. A sort of word-play, to start with, dropping names at times like bombs and missiles. And the battle continued. It went on for about two months. About hundred people joined the ‘game’ for and against. We were three to cross swords, the others to comment. All in the columns of The Statesman. It was a wordy battle, signifying not much. Finally, it was nobody’s gain, nobody’s loss either. But the edited version of the controversy involving just three of us featured in the special edition of a book, Les visitors de Cannes in 1992. All beyond my knowledge and belief! Great fun!”
Ray, Sen and Ghatak comprise the triumvirate which represents the cinematic Renaissance of India. Would it be right to say that Ghatak was largely ignored by the Indian and International media despite making such incisive films on social turmoil and moral anguish? “In thoughts, in ideas, Ritwik still remains the same larger-than-life Ghatak, reckless Ghatak, heartless Ghatak, unruly Ghatak, inimitable Ghatak, and, above all, the adorable Ghatak.” believes Sen.
Does he find the Anurag Kashyap brand of cinema a resurgence of the parallel wave of 70s and 80s, albeit in a new avtaar? He puts it straight “I am sorry, so far I’ve not come across any of Anurag Kashyap’s brand of cinema”
That’s Mrinal Sen for you – rebel without a pause who thrives on approximation rather than precision, who depicts events in cinema as potent triggers to portray human conflict and complexity, who defies established notions of narrative structures in the process. At 90, he’s still the same. Always being born. And we love him for being so.